As a young man, Warwick Cairns met legendary explorer, Wilfred Thesiger. At the time, he didn’t know who he was. He had gone a long to a meeting of one of those charities that arranges community work in third world countries for youngsters that haven’t decided what to do with their lives. A fleeting friendship is formed between the two and Thesiger invites Cairns out to his other home, in Africa.
The cover blurb would have you thinking it was a dramatic account of Thesiger’s survival in savage lands but it’s far from it. The author’s train of thought is somewhat meandering but in a way I enjoyed. Sometimes you may feel like he has gone completely off-topic but it all is cleverly interlinked with his travels to meet Thesiger in Africa and stories from the explorer’s past. I found the style engaging with a few laugh out loud moments, especially when he goes to the doctor to get and STD test and explains the reason for his concern.
At times I was unsure when events were taking place. Thesiger’s travels are marked with dates but not the author’s. At the start it felt a little old-fashioned in places. Where he describes the clerks in the back room of the bank sorting cheques feels like a different age to today (though I imagine some people feel this is all their bank staff do anyway) made me think of an E.M. Forster novel.
The historical aspect takes a bit of a backseat. As second hand accounts, they didn’t seem to have the same life as the travel writing even though the content of colonial era exploration would be a fascinating one. However there was something touching about Thesiger and his need for friendship and the end had me in tears. So often the death of a historical figure is skimmed over unless something noteworthy happened. Age simply got the better of him but the description of his last months is so far from how he would have wanted to go out.
Thesiger was also an avid photographer on his travels and you can view some of his work on the Pitt Rivers Museum online catalogue.
In Praise of Savagery is available in paperback or a bargain priced ebook. Thanks to The Friday Project for sending me a copy to review.
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