INTO THE HEART OF BORNEO by Redmond O'Hanlon

INTO THE HEART OF BORNEO

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A pleasant, learned, funny, silly romp through the jungle. On a scientific quest of sorts, British naturalist O'Hanlon and a friend, poet James Fenton, decided to spend two months in darkest Sarawak, traveling from Kuching on the South China Sea to the headwaters of the Baleh River, whence O'Hanlon climbed Mount Tiban (ca. 6,000 feet). Along with three Iban guides (one of whom spoke ingratiatingly fractured English), these two unlikely adventurers--O'Hanlon was fat, Fenton out of shape--endured the most appalling trials from steambath heat, leeches, omnipresent insects, dangerous rapids, and a constant diet of sticky rice and insipid, bony sebarau fish. Happily, the potentially lethal menace of poisonous snakes (or large pythons) and hostile Ukit tribesmen never materialized. The ostensible purpose of this expedition was to determine whether Didermocerus sumatrensis harrissoni, the Borneo two-horned rhinceros, presumed extinct, might not still be in existence. Ultimately O'Hanlon tracks down an ancient Ukit hunter who tells him that in his youth he speared eight such rhinos near Mount Tiban. ""Our search,"" O'Hanlon mock-solemnly intones, ""had ended."" But it had been more of a (slightly deranged) lark than a search: O'Hanlon reveling in ""the world's best reading matter,"" Bertram B. Smythies' The Birds of Borneo (third edition), as his motorized canoe pushes upriver and stunningly beautiful live birds fly past him; O'Hanlon endlessly twitting his droll, unflappable companion (who spends most of his time reading Les Mis≤rables); O'Hanlon arriving at the remote hamlet of Rumah Ukit and being forced, almost at spear point, to teach the natives the ""seven-step disco."" (""We have already a tape of music and we have a recorder. You have batteries?"") O'Hanlon's readers will be glad he left the comforts of home to dine on monitor lizard tail and get drunk on tuak--and equally glad they didn't join him. Fine light entertainment.

Pub Date: March 20th, 1985
Publisher: Random House