The Last Safari

by Richard Rhodes
Doubleday, $10.95
Like a number of other contemporary novelists, Richard Rhodes has found much about Africa, that still-dark continent, that expresses the ambiguities and contradictions of our current life. Hauntingly beautiful but filled with desolation, the home of the first humans yet never really civilized, Africa emerges in The Last Safari as a place much like the human psyche, a battleground where action is governed by meaning but meaning is a matter of interpretation.
The story is simple: Seth Crown, a white African who runs a safari camp, recovers in middle age from the brutal murder of his wife twenty years before and finds himself passionately, miraculously, in love. Just as the fragments of his life seem to bind together, a terrorist known as Rukuma sets out to rid Africa of all whites, beginning with an innocent zoologist and moving quickly to Crown’s camp, where he slaughters ten tourists. Reluctant but outraged, Crown joins the hunt for Rukuma—his most dangerous safari.
Rhodes lays out the bones of this tale in a spare prose that is deliberately (and sometimes ponderously) reminiscent of Hemingway, who also appears in an instructive anecdote. But the flesh of the book is fed by those qualities that have made Rhodes a first-rate essayist: a huge appetite for information, acute powers of observation, and the ability to find connections where none are obvious. Ranging from the most private experiences to speculations on events of 6 or 7 million years ago, The Last Safari is a serious novel that reads like a good mystery.