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Riding the Demon: On the Road in West Africa (Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction) Hardcover – March 1, 1999

3.1 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this vivid exploration of road culture in the West African nation of Niger, Chilson describes a crucial aspect of African culture as a whole: the bush taxi, or "taxi brousse." A year spent taking journeys in this most common form of transportation in Africa leads Chilson further inside modern Africa than an earnest anthropologist would get, not least because of the danger involved. The people of West Africa abhor an empty Peugeot 504. The rickety old station wagons with balding tires, no windows and engines held together by a wing and a prayer gather at chaotic motor parks where they wait until at least 10 passengers are crammed aboard before taking off. These bush taxis are the great social leveler, since people from all walks of life use them. Auto accidents, horrendous and frequent, are a leading cause of death in Africa. Stationed along all routes are "checkpoints" manned by aggressive soldiers who expect bribes, the cost of which is factored in to the passengers' fare. Little wonder that a fatalistic belief in the "demons" of the road dominates the driversAa set of beliefs that also draws in the author, whose own fear is assuaged by amulets and, on occasion, numb withdrawal. There is an unrelenting quality to the excellent descriptive writing, appropriate perhaps because of the unrelenting life, but readers will hunger for more humor and better characterizations of the people the author met. (Mar.) FYI: Riding the Demon received the Associated Writing Programs award for creative nonfiction.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

For many travelers in Africa, the experiences most often remembered are those had on the highways and back roads. Africa has always been a continent with a mobile population where transportation routes are important. As a result, many unique aspects of African culture are connected to travel. Chilson, a young writer, has written an engaging and fascinating account of his road experiences in the French West African country of Niger, north of Nigeria. This well-written book is much more than a description of Chilson's trip, also explaining the history, culture, and personality of this part of Africa. Recommended for libraries with African studies and anthropology collections.AMark L. Grover, Brigham Young Univ. Lib., Provo, UT
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press; 1st edition (March 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0820320366
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820320366
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,004,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It's incredible that Chilson manages to convey the entire culture of Niger (as well as incidental discussions of its history during French colonialism) through his reporting of his travels with several bush taxi drivers and how they manage their lives and the lives of their passengers on the road. Americans often think that we live in a car culture and have a love/hate relationship with our overdependency on cars. I challenge anyone to read this book and not come away thinking that traffic problems and reckless driving in our country are at best inconveniences compared to the literal hell in Niger. Here is a country where a highway patrol is manned by the military and is funded almost entirely through bribes extorted at road checks; where automobiles are literally pieced together with wreckage from the hundreds of near daily, fiery crashes that seem to line the Nigerien roads the way weeds and garbage line our highways; where talismans to ward off the road demons that lurk in the night are carried by everyone - not out of superstition - but in an earnest belief that one may not make it to the end of one's journey without them. Utterly fascinating, expertly and cleanly written, this book is an eye-opening reading experience.
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By A Customer on July 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I desperatly needed some inspiration and Chilson and his book gave it to me. He weaves an interesting story through Niger meeting just the right mixture of people (intellectual, working class types and others) and describes the country to a penetrating affect.
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By A Customer on February 21, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a terrific book, a marvelously detailed, nonfiction narrative of travel on the spirit-rich roads of West Africa. Chilson chronicles his journeys by "bush taxi," or freelance transport, typically manifested as a decades-old Peugeot station wagon or minibus, and takes the reader along through maddeningly frequent police checkpoints, past a seemingly unbroken line of wrecked vehicles (many of them, no doubt, bush taxis like those in which he rides), and into a number of fascinating meetings and conversations with people who call the desert regions of Niger home. Those he meets include bush taxi drivers, the commandant of Niger's highway patrol (who, like Claude Raines in "Casablanca," is just shocked at Chilson's suggestion that his troopers are corrupt and abusive of travelers), a revered holy man who provides the writer with talismans to ward off harm on the road, and Niger's only (as far as anyone seems to know) female commercial driver, who aspires to owning her own bush taxi service, with men working for her. As he travels, Chilson reflects on his own responses to the landscape, and to the harshness of life in the impoverished country. He returns often to the century-old story of Captain Paul Voulet, the French officer who led a surveying expedition along the route of what would one day be Route Nationale 1, the main highway that Chilson travels with his guide and mentor, bush taxi driver Issoufou Garba. Voulet ordered the 450 African troops under his command to slaughter thousands as he crossed the land, destroying whole villages without provocation. The highway, Chilson realizes, was born of Voulet's madness, of murder and an insane greed for power.Read more ›
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By A Customer on December 3, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book was informative, but it is limited to "on the road". You'll hear about the bush taxis and their drivers, but will visit only a small part of the country. This book could have used a good editor -- there's some repetition -- and a better map. The map in the front of the book doesn't list all the towns, villages, etc. that were visited and doesn't name the adjacent countries. I thought it was worth reading, but disappointing.
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