Friday, March 21, 2014

Cathedral of the Wild: An African Journey Home by Boyd Varty

Boyd Varty's life to date seems to have been designed for the writing an exciting memoir. His great grandfather bought land in the South African bush for the purpose of his own hunting and fishing. Through time, his descendants have grown more and more committed to the land, which they call Londolozi. When still in their teens, upon the death of the grandfather, Varty's father and uncle decided to save Londolozi by restoring the overgrazed, dried-up land so that it might attract wildlife. It was a great risk and the family nearly went bankrupt on several occasions, but in time, the brothers conserved the land, the wildlife thrived, and well-heeled visitors now pay for very personalized safaris, as Londolozi Game Reserve is a celebrated destination for ecotourists. The author witnessed the work of his father and uncle and played a supporting role, all of which he writes about in Cathedral of the Wild: An African Journey Home.

Like the best of family sagas, Cathedral of the Wild is filled with distinctive characters, especially Varty's mother and his uncle. He describes his mother as a no-nonsense, tireless devotee to the Londolozi cause, who sees that the work of the safari camp really gets done. She does more, however, than just support her husband's dream - she repeatedly guides the enterprise out of trouble. Varty's uncle is a sometimes-lovable, often annoying filmmaker who enlisted the author and his sister in the production of his wildlife films before they were ten. They even ended up in the cast of the uncle's reality series called Bush School, which was shown by Disney on cable networks in the early 1990s.

Being very preoccupied with their business, Varty's parents often left their children in the care of others, including relatives, tutors, or Shangaan employees who showed them native ways. The author did, however, get to tag along on some of his parents trips across Africa. As he matured, he was involved in numerous life-threatening incidents. It all leads to exciting reading.

I think the first three quarters of the Cathedral of the Wild is really good. The final chapters in which the author deals with his spiritual and emotional trials are, however, less satisfying to me. Still, I found much to remember and am glad to have read the book. I hope Varty writes more.

Varty, Boyd. Cathedral of the Wild: An African Journey Home. Random House, 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781400069859.

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