Sparks (Dreaming of Wolves, 2010) recalls trekking through the Carpathian Mountains in this memoir and history of Eastern Europe.
An expedition called “The Way of the Wolf” offers a 2,000-mile journey through the Carpathians from Romania to Germany. During the trek, a group of wildlife professionals and eco-volunteers take an inventory of wolves and other animals that inhabit the range, track their movements, and collect scat samples for analysis. It’s the brainchild of Peter Sürth, the chief wolf tracker and technician at the Carpathian Large Carnivore Project, whom the author met while volunteering for the organization in Transylvania (as described in his previous book). Sparks’ latest offering takes a similar tack, recounting the day-to-day experiences of the expedition’s support team, describing the sweeping vistas of the surrounding landscape, and offering razor-sharp vignettes of Slavic village life. These observations often have the roughness of diary entries, and herein lies their candid charm. During an evening stroll, for example, the author overhears “the riffs of Take Me Home, Country Roads booming from a neighboring house”; he notes wryly, “John Denver’s voice occasionally managed to transcend multi-gendered, Romanian-accented shouts, hoots, hollers, and screams that accompanied the familiar and comforting melody. Take me home indeed.” However, the author’s attempts to combine a travelogue with a walking history of the territory are less successful. The research is detailed, accurate, and supported by a wealth of secondary sources, and it brings to life the rich history of the Carpathians and its people. Yet the diary sections become swamped by long, unwieldy historical digressions. As a result, there’s a sense that there are two books on offer here, each with its own merits—one, a charmingly disheveled travel narrative; the other, a straight-laced historical thesis— and the author struggles but ultimately fails to make a seamless connection between the two. Still, this book, punctuated by stunning color photography, will attract those with an interest in wildlife and Eastern Europe.
An engaging, evocative work, despite its split personality.