SCIENTIFIC BOOKS THAT capture our imagination are rarer than an Arizona jack-a-lope. Thor Hanson’s The Impenetrable Forest will appeal to anyone interested in travel and endangered species. Hanson chronicles his Peace Corps Volunteer experience in Uganda, helping to establish foreign tourism to a very new wildlife reserve. He joined the project only two years after the inception of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and during a crucial time: mountain gorillas native to this area and the neighboring Rwanda were being slaughtered
Like Peter Matthiessen (African Silences), Hanson records wonderful details about Ugandan life. Unlike Matthiessen the cool, distant observer, Hanson joins the celebration of life. He recounts attending a cultural event where “people gaped and laughed, or rushed forward to shake our hands . . . ‘What is your clan?’” they asked and once he answered with names given to him by his African host, locals cackled. He describes empazi (African ants) who overran his home one evening, covering walls, floors, ceiling, and even his bed as he slept. Madly pulling off biting ants, dressed only in boxers, and carrying a lantern, he retreated to the outhouse, the only ant-free place on the property.
Written in classic travel memoir style, the book includes healthy portions of humor, empathy and is liberally spiced with history, geography, and local flavor. Like a warm cup of sweet Mexican atole on a cold morning, the book fills your belly and makes you smile. Since a portion of the purchase price is donated to conservation efforts, readers help protect the few remaining giant primates.
Originally published in 2001, this is a second edition that includes new material, updates, and an epilogue about the author’s return pilgrimage made in 2006, eleven years after leaving. This is a success story for the number of mountain gorillas increased between 13 and 21 percent over that period while the human population increased 60 percent.
Some Volunteers’ memoirs are filled with regret and tinged with shame, like a bloody, bare-backed minor priest flogging himself for not being worthy. This book, though serious, is told by a man who believes that life is one man getting hugged for sneaking a kiss and another getting slapped.
Lawrence F. Lihosit works as a city planner. His latest book is titled Across the Yucatan (2007), a humorous travel narrative available through A Book Company at abookcompany.net as will be his July release of poetry about teaching titled Attack of the Claw. He can be contacted directly at LawrenceFLihosit@gmail.com .