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Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of…

Crossing the Heart of Africa: An Odyssey of Love and Adventure

by Julian Smith

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    The Lost City of Z by David Grann (fyrefly98)
    fyrefly98: They take place on different continents, but both are stories of Victorian explorers, with interwoven tales of the modern biographers/journlists who retrace their paths.

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This book was another in the popular genre "I did exactly (sort of) what a famous explorer did in Africa only much later". I actually often find these really compelling. This book was okay, but didn't measure up, IMO, to some of the examples I've read recently. The author is engaged to be married, but still apparently, for no real reason except basic lack of moral courage, having doubts. Being a travel writer, he decides to follow Ewart Grogan's "Capetown to Cairo" walk. Grogan did the walk partly to convince his future father in law that he was worthy of his daughter. So, the premise, I guess, is that if Smith does the same thing he is proving to himself that he is ready to get married. The book's narrative shifts between Smith's trip, which is really, like Grogan's, only a small part of the total "C to C" and flashbacks to pivotal points in Smith's own courtship with his fiancee'. One problem is that Smith isn't able or doesn't try to dig up anything new about either Grogan or the country he passes through, so the travel parts are mainly descriptions of stiff buns from riding bike taxis finished off by the requisite (for this genre) failed/aborted attempt to get into south Sudan. I don't blame Smith for not going to Sudan. I blame him for too much navel gazing about his excruciatingly mundane love life and not enough real research or even description from the trip itself. But I'm being mean, really. It's actually not a bad read esp. if one hasn't read anything else of this type. I'm going to coin a phrase and call it "African travel Lite." ( )
  kaitanya64 | Jan 3, 2017 |
This book is actually three narratives running in parallel. One is of the epoch making journey from Cape Town to Cairo by intrepid traveler Ewart Grogan at the turn of the 19th century. The other narrative is the author's own attempt to follow in Grogan's footsteps 100 years later. The third is of his life together with his fiancée. Makes for interesting reading for the most part especially the most gory section where Grogan is chased by a large gang of cannibals and he and his group are fleeing for their lives through scorched villages and victims in various stages of dismemberment and preparation.
  danoomistmatiste | Jan 24, 2016 |
This book is actually three narratives running in parallel. One is of the epoch making journey from Cape Town to Cairo by intrepid traveler Ewart Grogan at the turn of the 19th century. The other narrative is the author's own attempt to follow in Grogan's footsteps 100 years later. The third is of his life together with his fiancÄå©e.
  kkhambadkone | Jan 17, 2016 |
In Crossing the Heart of Africa author Julian Smith tells two intertwined stories. The first is that of somewhat lesser-known African explorer Ewart Grogan, who, in 1889, pledged that he would make the first crossing of the African continent from south to north in order to win the hand of his true love, Gertrude, a woman well above his social station. Smith gives us a version Grogan's treacherous journey which will end with Gertrude's uncle's blessing upon their matrimony. Alongside Grogan's story is Smith's recounting of his own journey across modern-day Africa following Grogan's route, a journey that despite the passage of more than a hundred years, is still fraught with danger and difficulty, but for entirely different reasons. Rather than earning his love's hand, though, Smith's journey is his last act as a "free" unmarried man. As he traverses the continent, Smith also reflects upon his 7 year relationship with Laura, the woman who is about to become his wife.

Smith's relationship reflections are easily my least favorite part of the book and, in my opinion, add little to it. Smith's disclosures are never inappropriate, but in ways they feel almost too personal to the point that I worry that if it had been me Smith was getting married to, I'd have been uncomfortable to have the nooks and crannies of our relationship dissected on the page. Smith, in his reflections, also reveals himself to be the sort of total commitment-phobe that I find difficult to understand. I found it difficult to wrap my mind around someone who, after 7 years and numerous "Aha! I love you!" moments would still be dragging his feet about the part with the rings. I'm afraid these things distracted me from what is, on the whole, a very good book.

I'd never heard Ewart Grogan's story before, and Smith does an excellent job of giving Grogan's story new life. He captures the highs and lows of Grogan's trip, a journey made difficult by everything from disease to cannibals to volcanic wasteland to lack of supplies and hostile natives at every turn, but also a journey made spectacular by its opportunities for seeing incredible, virtually untouched wilderness, the thrill of the hunt of species that were practically the stuff of legends, and, of course, the reaching of the ultimate goal - a marriage to Gertrude. Smith reveals, in Grogan, a still young man of extreme determination and intelligent, practical leadership, and, in Africa, a still wild land of tribes both friendly and unfriendly, laboring under the great and lesser burdens of colonialism.

Weaved into Grogan's story is Smith's own journey through Africa via a similar route to Grogan's. Smith's journey is fraught with trials of its own, though his near-death experiences are considerably more limited than Grogan's. Smith's is a story of still-rugged wilderness, packed and undependable "public" transportation, friendly eager-to-please people who might just be friendly or might just be so desparate to get out of Africa that any American looks like a walking chance at a U.S. visa. On his trip, Smith finds an Africa riddled by violent conflicts that keep him from following Grogan's route exactly and an African continent marked by countries with struggling economies that offer few opportunities to their citizens, no matter how industrious.

Crossing the Heart of Africa is an entertaining re-telling of a death-defying adventure and a study in contrasts. Smith gives an interesting side-by-side look a Africa's past and its present that allows us to draw our own conclusions about what has really changed in Africa in a century marked by struggle and corruption. At the same time, Smith offers us a snapshot of practical modern love juxtaposed against the romantic ideas of a different time that might well have us longing for days when a woman's heart and her hand in marriage was considered something worth earning. ( )
  yourotherleft | May 17, 2011 |
This is the stuff that the adventure stories of the 1800s and early 1900s are made of. An intrepid young man wanting to prove himself to win the hand of a fair maiden sets off on an epic journey. In 1898, Ewart Grogan set out to cross the entire length of Africa – a feat that had not been accomplished before. A century later, travel writer Julian Smith attempts to retrace Grogan’s steps in , fighting against time to make it back home for his wedding.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The story is gripping and the constant shifting between the stories of Grogan and Smith quickens the pace making you want to hurry up and find out how it ends (even if you know it ends well, thanks to the wedding photos in the middle of the book). Smith’s travel writing experience shows in the telling – his descriptions of Africa, her people and his own emotional state as he mulls over his impending matrimony are masterful.

Grogan’s adventure is not to be replicated by the faint-hearted. Even with access to the internet, cellphones, aeroplanes and somewhat sturdy local transport, Smith didn’t have an easy time of it. The cannibals of Grogan’s trip are not around, but there is enough adventure to whet any travel junkie’s appetite.

I recommend Crossing the Heart of Africa for anyone who enjoys a good travel story and swashbuckling adventures of the great explorers. And at its heart, this is a tale of love – it is the two romances that keeps the story together over continents and centuries.

Review first published at Frangipani Journals
  chryselle | Apr 13, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061873470, Paperback)

The amazing true story of Julian Smith, who retraced the journey of legendary British explorer Ewart "The Leopard" Grogan, the first man to cross the length of Africa, in hopes of also winning the heart of the woman he loved.

In 1898, the dashing young British explorer Ewart “the Leopard” Grogan was in love. In order to prove his mettle to his beloved—and her aristocratic stepfather—he set out on a quest to become the first person to walk across Africa, “a feat hitherto thought by many explorers to be impossible” (New York Times, 1900).

In 2007, thirty-five-year-old American journalist Julian Smith faced a similar problem with his girlfriend of six years . . . and decided to address it in the same way Grogan had more than a hundred years before: he was going to retrace the Leopard’s 4,500-mile journey for love and glory through the lakes, volcanoes, savannas, and crowded modern cities of Africa.

Smith interweaves both adventures into a seamless narrative in Crossing the Heart of Africa: the story of two explorers, a century apart, who both traversed the length of Africa to prove themselves . . . and came back changed men.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:11 -0400)

Describes how the author recreated the journey of British explorer Eward Grogan across Africa in part to secure a proposal acceptance from his future wife, revealing how Grogan's sojourn was also performed to establish marital worthiness.

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