Kirkus Reviews QR Code
MAN EATERS MOTEL by Denis Boyles


: And Other Stops on the Railway to Nowhere: An East African Traveller's Nightbook

by Denis Boyles

Pub Date: June 28th, 1991
ISBN: 0-395-58082-X
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

 Another splendidly keen-eyed and cant-free book from Boyles (African Lives, 1988), who takes the old travel chestnut--a journey by train in the wilds--and turns it into a tart but not unsympathetic commentary on East Africa, past and present. Boyles begins on the once-prosperous clove-growing island of Zanzibar, center of the Arab-run slave trade and the first British foothold in East Africa. He next travels to Mombasa, the former Arab stronghold on the Kenyan coast and the first stop on the railway, planned by the British to run from the coast through Nairobi and Kenya to Kisumu on Lake Victoria. Begun in 1896 and built with imported labor from India, the railway's progress into the interior was slow, and events at Tsavo--site of the very real but much underused Man Eaters Motel of the title--almost ended the project. Now a sleepy railway halt in the middle of the Taru desert, Tsavo was once the scene of a terrifying spree by man- eating lions, who before they were finally shot had killed more than 128 people, often snatching them from their tents while they were sleeping, or, in one instance, from a stationary railway carriage. The rest of the journey to Kisumu, a place ``trouble enough for most people,'' is relatively tame in comparison but typically enlivened by Boyles's cogent observations and penchant for the unusual. Vivid writing, well-chosen anecdotes, illuminating facts, and a special knack for finding and delineating memorable characters make this a treat for those who delight in the offbeat, always objective, and never pompous travel book.