Book Review: The White Nile Diaries

{This review is payment for getting to read the book early, a small enough price to pay.}
This is a travelogue by John Hopkins, who in the early 60s, after spending time in Peru, looks for a new adventure instead of going home to a typical East Coast preppy lifestyle, as his parents want. The wanderlust is so huge in him he goes despite the love of what seems to be his dream woman. Given an opportunity, or at least encouragement, to visit Kenya, he and his buddy buy a motorcycle in Germany and cross the Sahara before making a right turn at the Nile.
At first I was a bit disappointed that they weren’t actually following the Nile to its origin, as the title might imply; instead it’s the name they give their motorcycle. But like with Robert Heinlein’s Tramp Royale and the recently read and reviewed Harry Harrison autobiography, I’m fascinated by descriptions of places I’ve traveled to, reveling in the differences 50 years have made. Of course this also made for some obnoxious moments when I suddenly yelled “Been there!” like with Djerba and Leptis Magna, but that’s neither here nor there.
My favorite part of his writing is description, from the mournful call to Islamic prayer to the blonde blue-eyed denizens of the Sahara. He and his buddy also seem to have a lot more fun at border crossings than is really recommended. More importantly, he doesn’t give short shift to the bad moments, especially the boredom.
My favorite line: “My only revenge is this diary, where I record how awful it all is.”
On the other hand, if there’s one thing to love about this author/adventurer, it’s his optimism: “Whatever I leave on a page, unless a mystery breeze whisks my notebook overboard, a snack for the crocs, these words will be with me forever. That was what the Pharaohs aimed at. Forever. That was what they got, but it took a pyramid to do it. I can achieve it on a single page. Forever.”
One more quote, which reminds me of why I only travel to places I like now: “We showered and washed our clothes by treading on them in the shower.”
So, in sum, a pleasant enough yarn with plenty of funny moments among the introspection.



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