AFRICAN MADNESS by Alex Shoumatoff


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Ace traveloguist Shoumatoff (In Southern Light, Russian Blood, The Rivers Amazon, etc.) writes of his most recent forays into Africa's darkest heart--in four engrossing essays revised from their original appearances in Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Only two pieces here truly reflect the book's lurid title. One, ""The Woman Who Loved Gorillas,"" paints a far less benign portrait of primatologist Dian Fossey than does the current film Gorillas in the Mist (based largely on Fossey's own memoirs). The Fossey the author found when he visited her camp in Rwanda after her murder was a woman whose obsession with animals usurped her ability to love humans, a neocolonialist who tortured natives in her zeal to save her beloved beasts. Fossey's sins pale, however, beside the horrors of the Central African Republic's former emperor Bokassa, whose trial Shoumatoff attended. A certifiable psychopath with Napoleonic delusions who fueled his insanity with orgies, a daily fifth of Chivas Regal, and the sport of feeding enemies to lions or crocodiles, Bokassa was also ""The Emperor Who Ate His People""--delighting in dining on human flesh. In Madagascar, however, Shoumatoff found Africa's own gentle antidote to Bokassa's ferocity, a lush land enamored of magic that he limns in ""The Last of the Dog-Headed Men."" And finally, the most deadly, mutant African ""madness"" of all: AIDS--or, as the suffering natives Shoumatoff depicts in ""The Search of the Source of AIDS"" call it, ""Slim""--ravaging the cities and villages that he traveled through with ever-growing despair. Packing these smoothly written essays with historical lore, scads of interviews, and keen personal observation, Shoumatoff never lets his own powerful responses to Africa obscure that vibrant, frightening land. An always engaging and at times riveting collection.

Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 1988
Publisher: Knopf