BOOKS ABOUT KENYA
22-10-2023 by Freddie del Curatolo
Those who love Kenya, its nature and savannah conservation, as well as the pleasure of reading, of course, have a new novel to add to their African library.
The Tuscan Nico Tondini, journalist, expert travel reporter and professional safari guide, offers a story that mixes fiction and reality, action and contemplation, and with his 'Red as Ivory' offers us both a sort of essay on animals, plants and anti-poaching techniques and a compelling story that binds it all together with impeccable writing (which in these times is no small thing).
Why is ivory red? The author explains in the flap on the cover: "the whiteness of African ivory does not have the whiteness that made it precious, it has the dark, dense colour of blood: that of the thousands of elephants killed for their tusks".
Tondini's love for Africa and its territory and the knowledge he has gained in at least three decades of professional travels and expeditions (he is a certified Kpsga guide) surface on every page of the book, not without poetic moments and references to places and people that we 'Italians in Kenya' can easily recognise.
Between quotations from authors, films and situations known to 'Kenyophiles', drinking mnazi and witch doctors, one eats the pages with pleasure, like drinking a tusker baridi.
But it is by no means a light safari: with the experience and discernment of one who can tell a damalisk from a hartebeest on the fly and knows the 'distinct scent of musk and rancid oil' of the water antelope, the author divides himself (and perhaps his soul is also divided in this way) into the two protagonists of the story: Ernest, a British-born Kenyan mzungu and Danjuma, a seasoned Maasai guide.
The two work for the Kenya Wildlife Service and, in the words of the novel, move between 'missionaries of democracy and capitalism' complicit with the rich corrupt local politicians and those who 'want to become a piece of Africa at all costs' out of curiosity, boredom or to escape from the European world'.
Their mission is to catch poachers and try to put an end to the ivory smuggling that kills elephants and rhinos every year, but also to the bad practices of hunting enthusiasts and trophy collectors. Despite the 'fiction', the 'modern poachers who use drones but are just as cold-blooded as the criminals of yesteryear' still exist, as do the little vultures who move to Watamu to try to make ends meet any way they can, and the noble souls who volunteer a good part of their lives to help the rangers of the national parks.
One comes across this and much more when reading 'Red as Ivory', and one also learns a lot, rooting for the two protagonists, amid shrewd Chinese businesswomen, unscrupulous Britons nostalgic for colonialism and al-Shabaab kidnappings.
Thrilling, at times. At least we, who, like Tondini, would like to be "the roar of the lion that cuts through the savannah and runs it for eight kilometres" or "the wind, the dishevelled laughter of the hyenas, the whistle of the cheetah...the starry skies, the fiery sunsets, the bleating of the kudu cub, the rough braying of the zebras and the clumsy, dusty gallop of the wildebeest".
NICO TONDINI, "ROSSO COME L'AVORIO" Edizioni Il Faro, pp. 519, € 19
You can find it on the main online sales platforms.
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