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After watching the Channel Four TV series chronicling the same journey, I decided to read Levison Wood’s ‘Walking the Nile’, an account of his attempt to walk the entire length of the river. The book is definitely a good read if you did watch the show due to the extra information included, although the photos included mean it’s accessible even for those who didn’t. I’d recommend it as a holiday read, as the narration is informative whilst ensuring an easy read. The only trouble with this plan is that by the time you’ve finished the book the descriptions of Wood’s travels will have put you in the mood for another holiday! He has definitely achieved his wish of wanting to inspire others.
My favourite thing about the book was the way Wood described the many places he visited- several times you could actually imagine being in a location because of the sheer detail included. The entire book is a great achievement because of its sheer detail, especially considering it takes its origins from travel journals. It’s a must read for anyone with an interest in travel, providing a well-researched insight into numerous fascinating cultures and places as well as their political histories and geography. Each country visited is well-described, with the horrors of the Rwandan Genocide and the AIDs crisis in particular being really brought home. Issues such as poaching, poverty, and sanitation are further addressed. One finishes the book much more aware of the hardships suffered by many in Africa, yet also feeling encouraged to visit Africa and see its beauty for themselves. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that describes so many places before! Many readers will probably feel somewhat ignorant as they realise how little Westerners know of many cultures and how lucky we are compared to many others. This is reinforced when Wood describes many of the people he met on his travels. However, it must be acknowledged that many happier aspects of living in Africa are also included.
Wood himself is remarkably self-depreciating about his amazing achievements, often downplaying events that must have been terrifying. Readers will like him and will him to succeed, sharing in his elation when he reaches milestones. He is frequently very honest and apparently unconcerned about how others perceive him. It is particularly interesting to see how rural Africa appears to the eyes of an ‘intruder’- this provides unnerving and surreal incidents in equal measure. Wood’s amazing experiences mean ‘Walking the Nile’ is never in danger of becoming boring. The dangers of the trip were really brought home when a travelling companion tragically died, then once again lwhen he was driven out of South Sudan; one has to admire Wood’s strength in carrying on with his expedition. The book is definitely more personal than the TV show due to the inclusion of Wood’s feelings towards both the trek itself and the dangers he faced. One of the many things I admired about his recount of his adventures was the way he didn’t gloss over any mishaps- ‘Walking the Nile’ truly is a warts and all account of his experiences.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, probably because it is a piece of non-fiction written by someone who has had a genuine adventure rather than a celebrity. Moreover, I respect the way Wood has used this book to tell Westerners about African life away from posh safari lodges. This is often done via the means of the author recounting stories he was told by locals about their lives. Said stories seem much more real when paired with the photos in the middle of the book. It really is tragic to see that such a beautiful part of the world is still blighted by war and ruled over by corrupt governments (I had to admire Wood’s guts when ‘sneaking’ into Egypt!). At times it is difficult to determine if embarking on the walk was bravery or insanity on Wood’s part, but it makes for a great read either way! References to earlier adventures tell us he really has led an amazing life, which is once again refreshing in a world where the only non-fiction many people read is by TV personalities. It is for this reason that, for the first time in months, I’m giving a book “full marks”! After finishing this book, I felt both inspired to travel and put off I equal measure, but certain that I would recommend it to anyone looking for a non-fiction read that is actually interesting and informative.
Rating: ***** (5/5)