NO MERCY by Redmond O’Hanlon


A Journey to the Heart of the Congo
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 Beset by bedbugs, tsetse flies, venal sorcerers, and nettlesome Marxist functionaries, O'Hanlon (In Trouble Again, 1989, etc.) journeys far upriver in the Congo to discover the truth about a prehistoric beast rumored to live deep within the forest. An odd retinue--including a sex-starved Congolese government naturalist, a humorously foul-mouthed and caustic American specialist in animal behavior, and a number of good-natured pygmies--accompanies the intrepid O'Hanlon on this twisted but mirthful Conradian adventure. Subsisting principally on a diet of manioc with the odd dish of monkey meat thrown in, O'Hanlon and his friend, Lary Shaffer (the animal behaviorist), are repeatedly exposed to gastrointestinal discomfort and must endure such other jungle delights as ferocious ants (a malignant swarm of driver ants actually eats one of the travelers' chickens), pythons, and angry chimpanzees. In each village they pass through, they must placate sorcerers or pay off local chiefs. Too often O'Hanlon encounters disease and death; in one chilling episode, he witnesses a boy's drowning in the Congo River, to the consternation of none but the two Westerners. Marcellin, the guide who seems to know a woman in every port, shrewdly steers a protesting O'Hanlon through this strange human and botanical landscape, but even an educated African is not immune to the rules of this spirit-based world. Indeed, by the end of his narrative, O'Hanlon himself, forever stroking a fetish given him by a sorcerer, has gone somewhat native--though not irrevocably, one would guess. O'Hanlon's staggering knowledge of the region's flora and fauna, in addition to his considerable descriptive skills, adds a further dimension to this casually wacky (and occasionally very sobering) account. As travel yarn, social commentary, zoological handbook, and snappy satire, O'Hanlon's book resists easy categorization. While some readers might wish O'Hanlon had controlled his more outrÇ rumblings, this is definitely a trip worth taking. (drawings, 3 maps, and 24 pages of photos, not seen)

Pub Date: March 24th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-40655-7
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1997


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