REVIEW: "In Praise of Savagery", by Warwick Cairns

Format: Paperback, sent to me by Publisher for an honest review
Pages: 256 
Published April 28th 2011 (first published October 28th 2010)  
Publisher: The Friday Project Limited 

Taken from Goodreads

One man's journey in the footsteps of a great explorer into the heart of Africa. As a young man, Warwick Cairns met the then elderly explorer Wilfred Thesiger and the two men struck up an unlikely friendship. Invited to visit him at his African home, Cairns decides to make a bit of an adventure of it and do some of the journey on foot. When he himself was a young man, Thesiger led an expedition to explore the course of the Awash river in Ethiopia. Every westerner that had gone before him had been killed by local tribesmen. Needless to say, he survived. Alternating chapters chart Warwick's journey with that of Thesiger creating a captivating dual narrative that is part travel book, part biography, part autobiography, part history with fair doses of philosophy and humour thrown in for good measure. In Praise of Savagery is a highly original book that defies classification but is always effortlessly readable.


This is where I end up sounding like a dumbo who has no appreciation for serious texts. I really struggled with In Praise of Savagery. I was interested by the premise, I enjoyed some of the tongue-in-cheek prose which ridiculed the voice of the text while almost underscoring the more serious messages of the book. The strange idea behind the text shouldn't have worked on paper, but they did. But... not for me. 

You know what? There are two reasons that I struggled with this book.

1) Post Colonial Literature
2)Colonialism and the Masculine

Two university courses which I remember fondly, but also with still-painful memories of essays and assignments. Maybe this sort of literature is just too much like "homework" for me now? I hope not. 

The book is a strange mixture of travelogue and biographical memoir which journeys through the Africa that once was, and the Africa that is. Thesiger's journey of old Africa was much more interesting to me as the modern author's journey just couldn't live up to the bright and savage excitement of Thesiger's story. Indeed, reading about Wilfred Thesiger's adventured reminded me of the sort of excitement I used to love in Wilbur Smith novels. 

This book has pace, excitement and a use of language which is almost melodic at times. So there was nothing wrong with the actual writing... The only reason that it wasn't for me is that it just wasn't my cup of tea. All because two university courses has killed this genre for me...for now at least. 

So, how to rate it? I would recommend this book to others who have an interest in travelogue, memoir and colonialism. There is depth and meaning behind the parallel journeys in this text and its messages are important. Therefore, despite the facet that this book wasn't "for me", I can't justify a low star rating. Like the coward that I am I shall give this book...


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