When Ann Jones decided to travel overland from Tangier to the southern tip of Africa with an Englishman she barely knew, she lived firsthand the worst and best of travel. Muggleton, at 28 half Jones's age and twice her size, turns out to be a road warrior with a foul temper who insists on charging headlong across a continent with practically no roads. Seen this way, Africa becomes little more than a drive-by history lesson (Jones injects encapsulated summaries for each country they pass but fail to truly visit). With his mantra, "We can do it on our own," Muggleton insists on crossing the Sahara alone with no map, bearings, or road, and takes the more treacherous road across Zaire simply to be rid of a convoy of jeeps (and, of course, to prove himself). The chasms of mud and water that cover the "roads" of Zaire cause the duo innumerable hardships and frustrations. Muggleton comes down with malaria, Jones's feet turn gray and her toenails fall off, the jeep falls to pieces--all to cover in five days what passing Africans walk in two. It's those same potholes, however, that ultimately save the journey and the book, for the creeping pace forces them to interact with their surroundings, and ultimately to split up. After that, Jones hooks up with two women, a Brit and a Kenyan, and the remainder of the journey takes a decidedly opposite approach. With the slower and more receptive pace, Jones begins to experience Africa, and to learn from the African inside her own car.
The irony of the Jones-Muggleton expedition is that its ultimate goal was to meet Modjadji V, the rainmaking queen of the Lovedu people of South Africa. As an "aging female," Jones is intrigued to meet the reigning member of a dynasty of single mothers and to experience a culture that values traditionally "feminine" ideals such as compromise, cooperation, tolerance, and peace, a far cry from her working relationship with the testosterone-charged Muggleton. The opinionated Jones, however, is not as close to those ideals as she would like to think. In fact, her coverage of West Africa is disturbing--she condemns the Tuareg social system as offensive without meeting a single member of nomadic tribe, and declares Ghana and Togo identical simply because she doesn't have time look for differences. These are the types of sweeping observations colonialists used to defend their rules. Jones's lesson then is to learn how to incorporate the Lovedu's values with the challenges of taking charge of her own journey. Ultimately, the book proves just how difficult it is to experience the vastness and variety of Africa from your car. --Lesley Reed
From Publishers Weekly
Faced with the hardships of trans-African travel on a shoestring budget, how long can two ill-matched travelers maintain a cooperative relationship? According to adventure writer Jones, about as far as Zaire. Jones (Women Who Kill, etc.) and her companion, a brawny and intrepid British photographer, resolve to cross the African continent in a souped-up Land Rover, ostensibly on a mission to find the legendary Lovedu tribe of southern Africa. The Lovedu are organized as a matriarchal monarchy; their queen is a rainmaking, peace-loving diplomat. Jones's curiosity about the feminist society increases even as her companion grows more obsessed with the challenges of transitAgreedy border guards, blistering heat, car trouble. She finds herself subject to the whims of a "petrol head," whose only interest is to press on across the deserts, mudslides and ravines that stand between him and the finish line. In Kenya, Jones frees herself of this masculine ballast and proceeds to Loveduland with female companions. Her account of her high-speed odyssey affords a startling glimpse of modern Africa; its conclusion in the woods of Loveduland gives the lighthearted exploit a deeper significance. Already at an age that most African women will not live to see, Jones is both a dauntless adventurer and a wise observer. Charming and well written, her story should be popular with readers interested in a woman's perspective on African exploration. (Jan. 30)
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