THE LAST WILDERNESS: A Journey Across the Great Kalahari Desert by Nicholas Luard

THE LAST WILDERNESS: A Journey Across the Great Kalahari Desert

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Adventure novelist Luard's voyage across the Kalahari had a dual purpose that became one in his mind: to answer a poet and a politician, met at a glittering London party, who saw no value ""to us"" in the wild; and to find the black Kalahari leopard which might or might not exist. He plays up the leopard's symbolic allure with an adventure-novelist's eye for effect, just as he ends with the smell of ""the fires of June""--deliberately-set grass fires that recall for him the odor of burning books. His guide is one of the last white hunters, a man whose character and values Luard admires though he acknowledges an ""occasional flaw"" in his hunter/conservationist outlook. Drawn to Africa by boyhood readings, Luard pauses now and then to ponder in the steps of Livingston with romantic awe. Luard is well aware of Livingston's negative legacy, yet it is a time between then and now that fired his dreams. He endorses black rule in Botswana, but makes overmuch of the ""pragmatic"" racial tolerance expressed by two South African engineers who tell a funny story about foiling the petty regulations of apartheid while vowing they'll ""never give the country to the blacks."" Other eh-route encounters, amusingly recreated, are with a South African woman who teaches San (""Bushmen"") children as a missionary for the Dutch Reformed Church, which denies them admission to heaven; an old Boer birthed to order (his father's) in a whorehouse; an airborne exterminator who has eradicated the Kalahari tsetse fly simply because the technology to do so exists; and a wilderness groupie, apparently one of many who, in order to feel close to the animals, ""screws"" the men who kill them. Though Luard's black leopard doesn't raise his quest to the aspired-to mythic heights, his human cast and their well-shaped, indicative conversations make for an entertaining, caught-in-time view of a savvy safarist's Kalahari.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Simon & Schuster