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Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure Paperback – December 7, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 92 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Smith’s strong interest in the forgotten, nineteenth-century Victorian explorer Ewart Grogan compelled him to attempt a similar journey in 2007. Both walked across Africa, covering more than 4,000 miles through eight countries, though Grogan attempted to become the first person to walk across Africa. Both men had something to prove: Grogan wanted his fiancée’s family to know that he was more than a gold digger, and Smith wanted to experience the journey before his own marriage. The interwoven stories contrast an early adventure with a modern Africa, with the remnants of Burton and Speke’s search for the source of the Nile running through it. Grogan’s adventures in Africa are carefully researched: from dodging cannibals, wild animals, and multiple illnesses to his death, when he was virtually forgotten. Smith, an award-winning journalist, tells his own story nearly a century later, as well as revealing a modern continent going through constant change. --Jay Freeman

Review

"Julian Smith, a talented travel writer...evokes Grogan, his adventures and his world with both insight and panache...and matchless skill." (Washington Post)

"The story is not only a modern-day travelogue, but also a great historical account of a charming trailblazer, and the story of a modern-day relationship." Miami Herald)

"Smoothly written chronicle that's part travelogue, part contemporary relationship commentary, and all heart." (Kirkus Reviews)

"Like David Grann's The Lost City of Z, this is two stories, of an explorer and of the author's search for him, and both are compelling. Recommended for...anyone who has ever been or wants to go on a quest." (Library Journal)

"Smith weaves a fine tale...if you love the Great Age of Adventure, you'll love this book" (Lonely Planet)

SOCIETY OF AMERICAN TRAVEL WRITERS WESTERN WRITING AWARDS WINNER: GOLD PRIZE (TRAVEL) (No Source)

BANFF MOUNTAIN BOOK COMPETITION WINNER: SPECIAL JURY MENTION (No Source)

AMERICAN SOCIETY OF JOURNALISTS AND AUTHORS AWARDS BEST-BOOK WINNER: MEMOIR (No Source)

“Grogan would have been a fitting protagonist for Shakespeare ... an insightful and often uproarious romp. ... memorable ... sheds light on Grogan’s monumental feat, which is worthy of a revisit.” (Boston Globe)

“Julian Smith, a talented travel writer, evokes Grogan, his adventures and his world with both insight and panache.” (Washington Post)

“An extraordinary love story . . . [an] absolutely fascinating adventure” (GoNomad.com)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Original edition (December 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061873470
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061873478
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #239,431 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By GF on February 14, 2011
Format: Paperback
"Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure" is one of the best books I've ever read. It's not what I expected when picking up a book categorized as "travel." I was ready for a somewhat dry narrative of the travels of Ewart Grogan, a British explorer who was the first to traverse the length of Africa (South-North) in 1898 - this to win the hand of the woman he loved. However, this is not what I got. The category is definitely wrong! But how do you categorize a book that intertwines an historical adventure, a personal travelogue, a comparison of past and present Africa, and a personal narrative of love and emotion? Retracing the steps of Grogan, Smith intertwines Grogan's and his journeys in a fashion that made this book impossible to put down. I felt I was there with Grogan fighting cannibals, and riding with Smith on the handlebars of a bicycle for miles. I could see the majesty of the African landscape in Grogan's time and now, and the poor conditions many face in Africa today. I can't imagine the hardships both men faced nor the strong emotions that drove them. If you like travelogues, adventure, history, or romance - this book should be high on your list of books to read.
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Western travelers' fascination with Africa is alive and well, judging by Julian Smith's finely written account of British explorer Ewart Grogan's epic transecting of the continent from south to north in the 1890s. He was the first white man to do so.

The urgent motivation for Grogan was to prove to his prospective father-in-law that he (Grogan) would be a worthy husband to that gentleman's daughter. Smith parallels Grogan's trek with his own in 2007, as far as he could go until forced by good sense and a healthy survival instinct to stop in conflict-ridden Sudan; in contrast to Grogan, he had something to prove only to himself. His account of Grogan's hazardous trip is half the strength of this intriguing narrative; the other half is his honest, unrelenting self-examination before his own commitment in marriage to his fiancé Laura, who, like Grogan's Gertrude, anxiously awaited his return.

Smith is a successful travel writer with four guidebooks to his credit, and whose work has appeared in a number of national publications. With Crossing the Heart of Africa, his clear, precise and subtly humorous prose style is smoothly ramped up as he deals with the absorbing adventures of the two travelers, whose stories are seamlessly interwoven, and are both compelling and highly entertaining.

Smith is a master of metaphor. The book is alive with original, photographically vivid word images. His accommodations are often unusual: the walls of one room "end raggedly two feet below the roof, as if gnawed by a giant rodent." African animals can tend toward the exotic. One night his flashlight beam catches an armadillo, "a scaly silver football rooting in the underbrush." A warthog "has an almost vindictive homeliness.
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Contents 5 stars, kindle version 3 stars
The book is indeed a very interesting read with three story lines intermixed: the original trip back at the turn of the 20th century, the author's trip in/around 2007 and the development of the relationship between the author and his girlfriend/fiancee/wife (approx. 2000 - 2008).
Reading the kindle version of this book, I am troubled with the large amount of typos in the kindle version. About once per page two or more words are combined (just "merged") into one. Examples are "Theconstant low-level ..." (location 2418), "The kingdom appearedprosperous ..." (2149), "have been seen to sharpensticks with their teeth" (1988), etc. In this time and age of spell checkers I would have expected far less such problems...
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I have been to Africa and hoped to learn about the animals and people. His journey and a former writer's journeys mostly talked
about their difficulties and not about the people and animals. I didn't finish it.
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Format: Paperback
I first picked up Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure by Julian Smith not so much for the author's recent route across a continent in the footsteps of some old explorer, but more for Smith's journey from the guidebook shelves to the more exclusive "Travel Literature" shelf, that holy mish-mash of memoir, adventure-logue, and other curious bits of travel-related nonfiction.

As a writer who spends way too much of his time fact-checking hotel prices and bus departure times for my four guidebook titles -- while my own book-length narrative percolates on the back burner -- I sympathize with Smith's journey from guidebook jockey to storyteller. I understand why, after penning successful Moon guides to Ecuador and the US southwest, he gave it all up to try his hand at a narrative tale. In Crossing the Heart of Africa, he succeeds brilliantly.

The book weaves together three compelling, efficiently-spun narratives, simultaneously relating (1) the exploits of Ewart Grogan, a little-known bad-ass Victorian-age adventurer, (2) the author's modern trip in Grogan's footsteps, and (3) the story of Smith's relationship with his wife, who awaits him at home with wedding bells.

Perhaps I enjoyed this book so much because of the many parallels with my own life, so that it was partly my story; or perhaps the storytelling really is that good; or maybe it was because I read most of it while flying on airplanes, where one appreciates everything and weeps more freely. In any case, Smith grabbed and held me for 320 compelling pages, leaving me both grateful and inspired, and, with the final hopeful line, a tear in my eye. I also learned a few things.

For instance, Smith informs, "`To travel,' originally meant to 'suffer.
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