TO TIMBUKTU by Mark Jenkins


A Journey Down the Niger
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 Some intrepid young men become the first outsiders to boat down the fearsome upper reaches of the Niger River. In the early 19th century, most of the Europeans exploring the remote reaches of this 3,000-mile-long African river perished as from disease or accident, or at the hands of hostile natives, and while Jenkins (Off the Map, 1993) and his three mates face those same challenges to only a slightly lesser degree, their expedition is ultimately done in by a mixture of ennui and anger. Still, before the Niger flattens out and the narrative follows suit, the expedition has its moments. After climbing in the wet, heavily forested mountains of Guinea to locate the river's headwaters, the fellows launch their frail kayaks into the fast-moving stream; running into nearly impenetrable walls of vegetation, they are forced to flee from swarms of bees, to retreat in the face of an angry hippo, and to constantly scan the water for malevolent crocodiles. John and Rick, the two less experienced kayakers, develop grudges against Jenkins and his buddy, Mike, who shares the author's lust for risk-taking adventures. As the river settles into its broad floodplain and slows, Jenkins and Mike begin to think of their wives at home in Wyoming, both seven months pregnant. Short of their original destination, Timbuktu, the pair disembark, leaving John and Rick--who eventually kayak the entire length of the river--to go it alone. But after Mike flies home, Jenkins decides he wants to reach Timbuktu after all and buys passage on a packed steamer. Interspersed are flashbacks to an earlier, rambling trip to North Africa when Jenkins was a teenager, and far more interesting tales of the early and mostly tragic adventures of the foursome's predecessors. While the narrative's occasional sluggishness and sometimes boastful prose can be heavy wading, the subject matter ought to hold the interest of like-minded adventurers. (20 color photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-688-11585-3
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1997


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