on 8 January 2001
Matthiessen is as perceptive in his observations as he is in his writings. The attention to detail - to colour, movement and sound - brings every sensation of being in the Bush back to mind. He is one of the few African writers who not only understands much of what is African, both of man and of animals, but is able to convey this 'African-ness' to the armchair reader. To read descriptions of both flora and fauna is utterly exhilarating; the vast knowledge that Matthiessen has of these things is combined with an ability to recount these experiences in a way that is not only beautiful and convincing, but breathtaking, and sometimes, frightening. Despite not promoting overt conservation, Matthiessen describes an Africa that reminds us of what we risk losing should we continue headlong to destroy the areas he describes. The power of vast open spaces of Africa is tantalisingly balanced against a desperate fragility of a truly wild place. This eats gently at a conscience that is otherwise overawed with the beauty of his descriptions.