This is a delightful and well-paced account of a National Geographic team's successful 1999 journey by raft down the length of the Blue Nile one of the two rivers of the upper Nile River from its source in Ethiopia to the Sudan border. Science magazine correspondent Morell (Ancestral Passions), whose crew was the first to descend the Nile in a single, unbroken trip, had taught school in Ethiopia during the 1970s, and she combines her love of the country with a remarkably balanced account of the Blue Nile's history. She perceptively probes the intricacies of Ethiopian culture ("Secrets, intrigues, plots and counterplots riddle every social circle, and you soon learn to not necessarily believe everything you are told"), ancient history ("For their part, the Ethiopian emperors weren't above using the Blue Nile as a weapon to turn Egypt into a desert") and politics. But Morell is most sensitive, and enlightening, on matters of race and gender. As she observes, race "was just something you had to accept: as a white person in Ethiopia, you were and are a spectacle." But she also acknowledges "how ill-prepared we were for meeting men of progress along the Blue Nile," expecting "bandits and spear-throwers, not paramedics who listened to the Ethiopian equivalent of the BBC." This is a loving and insightful description of a culture and region that has been mostly off-limits to Westerners. 16 pages of color photos. (Aug.) Forecast: Morell's previous book was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, so this one may get review attention. Boosted by advertising in National Geographic and National Geographic Adventure magazines, this book could provoke new interest in Ethiopian life and culture. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Morell, a Science magazine correspondent and author of the highly acclaimed Ancestral Passions, here documents the only expedition to travel the entire length of the Blue Nile in an unbroken journey. While she reports no groundbreaking discoveries and uncovers no new facts during this National Geographic expedition, Morell does exhibit an endearing love for the people she encounters and observes their environment and way of life with a keen eye and an open mind. She also cleverly mingles the narratives of earlier Blue Nile explorers with her own findings. This synthesis is useful, as is the author's description of Ethiopia's current political conditions. But it is Morell's portrayal of the indigenous folk, and their relationship with the river they both worship and fear that makes this book so captivating. And while there are other, more authoritative works on the subject (consider, for instance, Major Cheesman's pioneering Lake Tana and the Blue Nile or Alan Moorehead's instructive The Blue Nile, HarperPerennial, 2000), this one nevertheless deserves attention. Recommended for all public libraries. Edward K. Owusu-Ansah, Murray State Univ. Lib., KY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.