THE WHALES IN LAKE TANGANYIKA by Lennart Hagerfors

THE WHALES IN LAKE TANGANYIKA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This very short novel, smoothly translated from the Swedish by the poet Hollo, is a marvelous retelling of the expedition of Henry Morton ("Dr. Livingstone, I presume?") Stanley: it subverts the heroic legend into a psychotic control freak--Africa becomes his asylum. Told by John Shaw, an alcoholic ex-sailor and one of two white men who accompanied Stanley, the tale is the flip side of Heart of Darkness: the American correspondent Stanley, unlike Kurtz, goes to any lengths to keep Africa out of his civilized soul. Shaw, no Marlow, is recruited by sheer force of will and marched off at gunpoint. As Shaw's mind disintegrates, his account becomes phantasmagoric. Stanley pontificates on "the light of Africa" in one breath, goes into a funk over his dead horse in the next, and constantly rages over one trifle or another. A sadist, he can forgive Shaw for transgressions only after humiliating him. There is much feverish description of landscape (Hagerfors spent nine years in the Congo) into which Shaw projects his death-haunted state of mind. Africa becomes a psychic dueling arena: there are aborted attempts at escape; vivid portraits of disease and stench (the other white swells up hideously with elephantiasis); confrontations with natives (both those who are part of the expedition and those encountered on the way); a comic grotesque "war" with the sultan Mirambo, and much childish bickering. Stanley's pretense at exploration is an elaborate joke, disguising the expedition's true purpose--the benevolent abduction of Livingstone. That purpose is accomplished, of course, but it means nothing to Shaw: it's merely another absurdity on the road to oblivion. A compelling adventure that deconstructs itself as it goes along--until the very idea of the white man's burden becomes a perverse joke.

ISBN: 8021-1095-9
Publisher: Grove
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