Do not start reading this book while flying. I’d just launched into Chapter 3 when my flight was called. Chapter 3 is where van der Post stops explaining why he feels he has one foot in Africa and one in Europe, and starts describing his appalling series of flights from London to Nairobi. Not for the faint-hearted I can assure you.
Van der Post is off to assess two unchartered regions of Nyasaland (what is now Malawi) for the British government. He has such a sense of foreboding about the trip to Mlanje and its mountain that you are almost too prepared for what eventually happens. Then it’s off to the other end of the country to explore the Nyika plateau. Both adventure-laden trips are made on foot.
Throughout the trip, the reader is treated to van der Post’s thoughts and feelings about this part of the world to which he feels so close. Some of it naturally seems dated now, but it also provides a glimpse of how the British Empire actually worked in some of its further flung outposts.
If the story seems to take a while to get going, it is perhaps because it is not a story with a beginning, middle and end; rather it is a slice of van der Post’s remarkable life and, as such, it bears remembering that this is fact not fiction.
Overall verdict: A quick read from someone who really has done it all.