The Black Nile: One Man’s Amazing Journey Through Peace And War On The World’s Longest River
by: Dan Morrison
Every once in a while a book comes along that just looks like it would be perfect for your type of preferred reading. One of those “gotta have now” type books. A book that you are actually excited to read. I thought that Dan Morrison presented me one of these opportunities in the form of “The Black Nile”. A book about one man’s trip down the Nile from its source at Lake Victoria in Uganda, all the way to its terminus at the Mediterranean. A travel memoir I can relate too, having travelled the Nile from the Mediterranean to Lake Tana in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, I feel the book fell way short of my expectations and was quite a disappointment throughout.
To start, there really is no “Black Nile”. A great title though, referring more to the current situation of the people living along the river today, presented in a nice twisting of words. Unfortunately, I feel a lot of the spunk and quick wit of the book stops right there.
For those not familiar, a little geography here: The Blue Nile actually comes out of Lake Victoria in Uganda. The White Nile comes out of Lake Tana in Ethiopia. Both of these converge in Khartoum, Sudan to form what is just called “The Nile” from Khartoum to Cairo and beyond. Dan travelled the length of the Blue Nile. The Nile also travels from south to north, confusing things a bit more, before terminating in the Mediterranean Sea.
Dan, an aspiring journalist, and a buddy from home, start out in Uganda planning the trip, gathering supplies and information, and start making their way down the Nile to Sudan. A decent beginning actually. A lot of day-to-day happenings and a good boat ride up the river. At about the halfway point through Uganda though, the trip becomes less of a river type journey and starts to feel more like a disastrous ride from point to point, mostly in taxis, and not river taxis. As Dan gets to Sudan and his buddy has to leave for home, the journey, and book itself, become less and less of a river trip and more like a bunch of interviews with locals with a short boat ride here, a long taxi ride there, and a few donkey cart rides in-between. The travel memoir turns into a try at journalism along the more dangerous parts of the Nile. Unfortunately it doesn’t hit the mark. Dan starts focusing on minute interviews and really falls short here, in my opinion, with men who maybe used to have a lot to do with the shaping of Sudan, but don’t really seem to have much to say and don’t seem the men to be interviewing for a good interesting read on the situation in Sudan. He starts to focus on dams built on the river, or still in construction, and really begins to emphasize some modern social and economic issues with the river as of today, which isn’t a bad thing, but not in the repertoire of what I like to read about really, and not what the book was advertised as, or at least from the advertising I saw, or thought I saw.
The book turns more into an economic look at the river today, with a bit of history mixed in, and goes on and on with the interviews of local people, which, honestly, made it really hard to even finish the book because, being brutally honest, the interviews were with a bunch of guys I never heard of talking about issues that, at most times, seem trifle compared to the bigger picture of the problems in the area. Not only that, but they were, at most times, just plain boring. I did finish the book though, and it picked up in the last twenty or thirty pages, when Dan reached Egypt, but all in all, I didn’t like it.
For me, this was more of a book about Sudan, with Egypt and Uganda as “bookends”, being around 75% the former and 5 and 20% the latter. I’ve travelled through Sudan, love Sudan, and visited many of the places Dan did in the book, but that said, it didn’t really inspire my imagination or stir the memories I have from the country, river and this area of the world. I have to say that I came away thinking this book was just an afterthought from a poorly planned trip that was supposed to be a journalistic news story that was a decade too late. It doesn’t really convince at either or much else really. Honestly, at the end, I even feel Dan lost the whole premise of the trip he started, and turned it into a drab, day-to-day life interview with people who live along the river type of book, with cab rides in-between as he travelled the river less and less as the book went on, opting for train and land based motor vehicle rides and routes even when river travel presented itself.
…as a travel type memoir: Not Recommended
…as a history of the Nile: Not Recommended
…as a journalistic view on the issues of Southern Sudan today: Not Recommended
…if you don’t know much about the Nile or what has happened, and is still happening, along its length and are just looking for a general background read: ummm, maybe slightly recommended, but knowing that there is much better out there, just barely slightly.
Sorry Dan, bottom line is I didn’t like it. Period. You lost the whole premise of the book from what you started it out to be, and it did seem that the book was an afterthought on a trip that was taken for other reasons, all gone bad. On that note though, it’s all opinion, and the book has mostly good reviews on Amazon, with the book being called “nearly perfect” and “amazing” by some, just not by me.
…and an endnote: I hate writing bad reviews, but it is what it is, and I’m not going to lie. I want to review the books I read and don’t want to hold back if I don’t like one. I thought it was bad, but it is all opinion, and no matter what I think, The Black Nile was still well worth the effort, especially from this part of the world.
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