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This review is from: The Last Banana (Hardcover)
Shelby Tucker's "The Last Banana" is original, interesting and very well researched! It must surely be the book anyone interested in the topics he looks at should go to. For example, it was so interesting to read about the rise of Nyerere seen through the diligently researched eyes of the Greek settlers (I didn't even know that Greeks went to Tanzania to farm and settle). The tragedy of Nyerere's well meant nationalization programme and its dire consequences for the settlers are described sotto voce, all the stronger for that.
Shelby himself is a traveller. In some ways he writes in the tradition of Burton and Speke and Livingstone, the characters who provide the background of this tale. Like them, Shelby encounters and overcomes difficulties and disasters, he enjoys the unpredictability of Africa and its exotic side. He remains cool when things go awry. He sees the people he encounters, caught up in their own vortical lives, spiralling down to hopeless ends. He himself, the traveller, avoids that parochial fate by moving onwards, ever onwards to new encounters, new towns, new countries. In the end one detects a weariness creeping in at the futility of it all. Big, life-embracing human endeavours are described and it's shown how and why they fail.
Shelby has a humorous style. I was very slightly reminded of writers such as Redmond O'Hanlon or Griff Rhys Jones who dive into foreign parts waiting for disasters to happen, which, predictably, they do, much to the (retrospective) amusement of the writer. I guess Dylan Thomas also saw the humour and the tragedy of ordinary life though in his case it was in rural Wales. Here we see it against the panorama of African politics and history, African culture and fortitude. Nil desperandum. Shelby's idea is not simply to stay in the game (which is enough for most of us) but to seek out ever more exotic trials, moving on all the time to see what will happen next. He doesn't seem to get homesick for Osney Mead. Abu Simbel and the Moran are more to his taste. There is however a counterpoint running through the book: Oxford vs. Africa. And Oxford wins. It's Oxford that makes Africa and its terrible extraordinariness tolerable. One feels that if Shelby were to find himself in a near-death situation, he'd press the Oxford button and an Oxford genie would appear and spirit him away to safety.