books of the week

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The Independent Travel
To Timbuktu: A Journey Down the Niger (Hale, pounds 16.99, published March 30) by Mark Jenkins.

Stalked by all manner of wild beasties - crocodiles, hippos and African killer bees - Mark Jenkins has undergone great trials to reach the parts that other explorers have not. The account of his descent of the Niger River to Timbuktu, he promises, will be "far more than just an adventure book", touching upon such heavy topics as "the meaning of friendship, fear, struggle, loss, and tragically, death".

Jenkins finds the time amidst all the tough stuff to indulge in a little recreational activity - in one instance dancing by firelight with a hundred women, "their bodies dripping in the moonlight, their wet breasts swinging, their electrical hips throbbing". Lust is a recurring theme, and, given all the dialogue, the book does at times read like a yank's version of a Boys' Own adventure. This is a gritty account of modern African exploration, interwoven with previous explorers' tales.

Guide to Zanzibar, 3rd Edition (Bradt, pounds 11.99) by David Else.

The Bradt Guides used to revel in obscure destinations but with titles like The Guide to Zanzibar they are now moving into the mainstream. Like all guidebooks, this third version boasts of having been completely updated, detailing the recent improvements in the local tourist infrastructure.

Out of 200 pages a good 40 are dedicated to a detailed history, and a further five to "perspectives" on the island; quotes from early explorers, travel writers, poets and songwriters - though sadly no word from the island's most flamboyant son, the late, great Freddie Mercury.

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