This book initially fatigued me when I started it. Author Rick Bass was making me think too much and his style was a bit much for my mood. He definitely errs on the side of being lyrical, which in this case sometimes cloud or obscure facts. I think I had been longing for something simple, and books about Africa rarely are. In Bass, I found someone that really gets nature in a way that few writers – heck, few people – ever do. I had just been to the area of Namibia he was describing, and once I finally embraced his writing style rather than let it distract me, he took me right back to my time there.
Namibia is one of the few places in Africa that has an endemic rhino population that is not constantly threatened or being decimated by poachers for its (proven to be ineffective for medicinal purposes) horn. The country is a leader in conservation – not just in Africa, but the world. Bass visits the Namibian desert and explores the relationship between humans and rhinos – as well as the whole of nature. He also meets some of the people responsible for the work of the Save the Rhino Trust. These ‘characters’ are passionate activists and scientists living in the furthest reaches of nature conducting research and working to preserve forgotten, fragile ecosystems. His descriptions of their efforts, combined with his own experiences makes a readers’ heart ache with the intensity and sometimes futility of their actions.
The story is set in a rather inhospitable environment, which adds a richness to his narrative that wouldn’t have existed in say, South Africa, where the rhino population is larger, easier to see, surrounded by many more settlements (and tourists), and presently in much greater danger of extermination.
The story is richly-woven and very interesting, at times sobering, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. There are factual gaps and a bit more philosophizing than might strictly be necessary, but if you can get past those things, it is well worth your time. Bass captures the essence of Namibia and its rhinos in a way I’ve seen no other author do. Prepare to be transported, uplifted and a little bit heartbroken (not necessarily in that order).
He has a forthcoming book on Rwanda and his time teaching there – I am very much looking forward to reading it.