Colors of Africa

Kilgo, James

Published by University of Georgia Press
ISBN 10: 0820325007 / ISBN 13: 9780820325002
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This extraordinary, candid account of James Kilgo's African sojourn conveys the untamed beauty of the bush country with the attention of a seasoned naturalist and the wonder of a first-time visitor. With startling immediacy Kilgo recalls what Zambia's Luangwa River valley revealed to him: its voices, scents, textures, and, most meaningfully, colors. Hues like sienna, ochre, and umber forged a visceral link between the people, animals, and landscapes Kilgo encountered and the muted palette of ancient rock paintings in caves and overhangs across southern Africa.

Kilgo barely knew the man who invited him to Africa. A further complication: the trip was a big-game safari, which conjured troubling images of privilege and excess. Yet he went, as an observer, for Africa had enthralled him since boyhood. Kilgo's recollections of his fellow travelers and the safari staff―their forays into the bush, visits to nearby villages, and long evening talks about nature, family, and faith―are all informed by a growing awareness of Africa's complexities and contradictions. As he reflects on the swirl of customs and beliefs all around him, as he and his traveling companions draw closer together, Kilgo measures what he has learned firsthand about Africa against his readings of those who came before him, including explorer and missionary David Livingstone, writers Ernest Hemingway and Isak Dinesen, and environmentalists Mark and Delia Owens.

Kilgo thinks often about hunting: about the days-long initiatory rites of local native hunters; the motivations, beyond money, that can drive a poacher; the carnage the animals visit on each other nightly just outside the walls of the idyllic safari compound. Near the end of his stay, he is offered the chance to hunt a kudu, the great antelope of storied elusiveness. Pondering this unexpected opportunity, Kilgo wonders: Has he connected sufficiently with this remarkable place to justify his participation in the hunt? Is he ready and, above all, is he worthy?

Review: When James Kilgo is invited on an African safari, he leaps at the opportunity--even though the only shooting he is slated for is with a camera. As the group's photographer and "intoxicated by sensation," Kilgo not only documents the hunt, but also relays every sight, sound, and scent of the long trek through Zambia's Luangwa River valley.

The expedition is made all the more significant because Kilgo has cancer, and his lifelong dream is to travel to the great continent with "the sound of life." A retired University of Georgia English professor and former hunter, Kilgo's expectations of the trip are heavily influenced by the literary tradition of big-game adventurers Ernest Hemingway, Isak Dinesen, David Livingstone, and Theodore Roosevelt. Kilgo's sometimes-religious account echoes Livingstone's: "The mere animal pleasure of traveling in a wild unexplored country is very great," he writes.

Kilgo, an avid bird watcher, offers exhaustive descriptions of the many avian species he and the hunting party encounter. He sets aside his status as observer, however, when given the chance to shoot kudu, a type of woodland antelope that Hemingway also pursued and depicted in Green Hills of Africa. Kilgo soon realizes that while the experience of hunting in Africa is much the same as it was in Hemingway's day, Africa has changed greatly. Outside of the bush country where the party hunts, there is "poverty, AIDS, and genocide." But for Kilgo it is the beauty of Africa that resonates, as it is a place where the sky changes moment to moment, and the leaves and the flowers fade and fall: "Only the colors of the earth remain constant--black and white, sienna, ochre, and umber." --C.J. Carrillo

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Colors of Africa
Publisher: University of Georgia Press
Book Condition: Good

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