AT THE MERCY OF THE RIVER by Peter Stark

AT THE MERCY OF THE RIVER

An Exploration of the Last African Wilderness
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Journal of a kayak expedition on the largely unmapped, unexplored Lugenda River in Mozambique: something of a comedown from Stark’s adventure reporting in Last Breath (2001).

For starters, his 15-day trip—down the Lugenda from Belem to its confluence with the Ruvuma some 200 miles to the northeast—is less than the epic journey suggested by the book’s inflated subtitle. The faint aroma of compromise, which Stark himself is quick to identify, is present from the start. He has been invited to join the kayaking venture by Cherri Briggs, an American tour operator based in Botswana who implies that someone who can write like Stark could boost her business. Group dynamics are roiled by two unpaid South African guides, Rod and Clinton (the latter raised in Zimbabwe), who accompany Briggs, her brother Steve and the author. Stark is immediately appalled by the pair’s racist humor and open attitude of white superiority when dealing with the locals. What’s worse, inexperienced kayaker Briggs at the outset seems to see herself as the river boss as well as the sponsor. That misconception gets straightened out over a series of portages, dashes through rapids and random misadventures. Constant allusions to the threat of crocodiles and hippos with teeth like “railroad spikes” remain mostly allusions, although both are observed in number. In the absence of mortal danger, Stark’s recurring diarrhea becomes a subtext; after one harrowing day, he has the epiphany that a native African hunter of his age (48) would be relegated to tending the fire while younger stalwarts (a somewhat rueful nod to Clinton and Rod) do the manly stuff. His interjected tales of original African explorers like Ledyard, Mungo Park and even Vasco da Gama, presumably intended to add dimension to the two-week experience, are only marginally effective.

Fitfully laced with interior monologues, a chronicle of a distraction-laden trip that never lives up to its pretensions.

Pub Date: June 8th, 2005
ISBN: 0-345-44181-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2005




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