The Lion Sleeps Tonight and Other Stories of Africa by Rian Malan, Grove Press '12, $25, 336 pages, ASIN #0802119905. No index, bibliography, notes or illustration.
How better to write history than to recruit a natural storyteller. Trained as a journalist, Rian Malan won plaudits far and wide for his nonfiction book, My Traitor's Heart. Now after 20 years, Malan uses stories to recount the "halting steps and missteps taken as South Africans, black and white, try to build a new country."
To pique your interest straightaway, the author leads with a story called The Lion Sleeps Tonight, which will evoke memories among the Pete Seeger and Phish fraternities, as he recounts how the title song, recorded in 1939 by a young Zulo, Solomon Linda, "(was) appropriated by Western musicians....and ultimately became the centerpiece of the billion-dollar Disney property: The Lion King."
In other sotries, "Malan follows the trial of Winnie Mandela; plunges into the explosive controversy over President Mbeki's AIDS policies of the 1990s; paints a portrait of Paul O'Sullivan, an Irish-South African man in his fifties who is an unlikely battler of entrenched corruption; and introduces the reader to South Africa's answer to Saturday Night Live, The Pure Aonate Show."
Rian Malan has spent 36 years in South Africa and the United States as a journalist and has written for leading newspapers and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. He lives in South Africa.
The Last Viking -- The Life of Roald Amundsen by Stephen Bown, DaCapo '12, $27.50, 356 pages, ASIN #0306820676. Index, selected bibliography, note on sources, two groupings of b&w glossy images.
The author Toronto's Globe and Mail calls "Canada's Simon Winchester" not only writes about his exploration -- he lives it, having become "the first person to reach the four great geographical mysteries of the world -- the Northwest Passage, the Northeast Passage, the North Pole, and the South Pole. In a brief Q&A, the author discusses the writing of his book:
Q. What were some of the major challenges in the type of arctic travel on which Amundsen embarked during the early 1900s?
A. The arctic regions were truly unknown places, with no maps, no local guides, and no effective or reliable communication. Nor were there any accessible outposts at which to resupply in case of emergency. By today's standards the polar regions were inconceivably remote and dangerous, making them all the more difficult to explore and making potential mistakes or misjudgments in the frigid environment all the more life-threatening.
Q. How did Amundsen die, and do you think it was the type of death he would have wanted?
A. As far as we know, Amundsen's airplane crashed into the sea north of Norway on a rescue mission for a rival explorer whom he hated; only the wrecked pontoons were ever found. It was the type of death Amundsen claimed to have wanted: in action, in the frozen regions. While there are many who would profess a desire to die in action while secretly hoping for a comfortable end at home surrounded by family and friends, I think Amundsen truly did want a glorious and frightening death in the Arctic.
Stephen Bown is the author of Scurvy and other works that have been heralded by the Scientific American Book Club and the History Club. He lives near Banff in the Canadian Rockies.
King's Man -- A Novel of Robin Hood by Angus Donald, St. Martin's Press '12, $26.99, 360 pages, ASIN #1250014689.
From the dust jacket:
"It's A.D. 1192: Robin Hood has returned from the Third Crusade with his army in tatters to find his castle under siege by his enemies. But even those are the least of his problems -- on his journey back to England, Richard the Lionheart is betrayed, captured, and held for ransom. Suddenly the fate of the greatest warrior in Christendom lies in the hands of a renegade earl and former outlaw: Robin Hood.
"The mission is deadly, the enemies menacing and numerous, as Robin and his loyal lieutenant Alan Dale set out to free the Lionheart. Trying to thwart them are a powerful array of enemies, as the princes of Europe have united against Richard and, back in England, his brother, Prince John, seeks to take the kingdom for himself. Blood-soaked battlefields, deadly assassins, and treacherous foes line the road that Alan and Robin must travel as they fight to rescue Richard and restore his crown."
Occupationally, Angus Donald has been everything from a fruit picker in Greece and a waiter in New York City to a journalist and an anthropologist studying magic and witchcraft. He lives in London and has written two previous books featuring Robin Hood.