Monday, April 27, 2009

Riding the Rails

#33 -- "Blood on the Tracks" by Miles Bredin

When I was a little kid, Angola was my second-favorite African nation. (Everyone, if you would, leave lists of your top five in the comments.) I'm not sure why. Mom says that when I was young I heard a news story about a fellow falling off a ship off Angola, and was obsessed -- drawing pictures of the scene, etc. (The guy apparently survived.) Could be. It could be that I thought the flag was cool. It could be that Angola was becoming independent at about the time I was becoming aware of the wider world.

Or it could be...

The Adventures of Angola and Chad would be one of the better webcomics around, I think.

Anyway. As these things do, even as things have gone poorly for Angola over the years, I've still kept an eye on the place, and when I find a book I've never heard of that deals with it -- well, I've got to get it.

So, "Blood on the Tracks." It's an early-'90s account of a rail journey from Angola (emerging briefly from a civil war at the time) to Mozambique (emerging more-or-less permanently from a civil war at the time), heading through Zaire/Congo (was about to descend into a civil war that makes other civil wars look weak), Zambia, and Zimbabwe (no civil war lately, but they might as well). As you might imagine, the rails are in kind of rough shape in most places, so the train conceit is rarely kept up (and perhaps should have just been dropped; it's a distraction at times).

The book is pretty good, an account of a place that (weird youthful fascinations aside) I don't know a ton about and probably won't be visiting any time soon. I found the Angola and Mozambique parts the most interesting; it may depend on personal taste. It lags a bit in parts, when it just becomes a string of people encountered saying "well, we're kinda fucked here." Bredin's a good writer, with a dry wit and level gaze, but parts could probably have been chopped.


Cranky said...

I would read that webcomic, for sure. :)

Chad was always my favorite as a kid bc how cool would it be to live in a place called Chad, and Tanzania was 2 bc of the wildlife. I have an overwhelming desire to visit Egypt, so that's three. And I have friends from Ethiopia and Botswana, so we'll put those as 4 and 5.

Or were you being facetious when asking for our top 5? ;)

gsdgsd13 said...

Maybe the Adventures of Chad and Angola will become a real webcomic, if I stop being lazy. I can't see how it could avoid being a moneymaker.

I'm glad other people have top five African nation lists. God knows, at some point, I probably listed them all from favorite to least favorite (I don't know what least favorite would be -- Equatorial Guinea always seemed suspect), but mercifully my mother hasn't kept that around.

Cranky said...

Yes, well, I used to enjoy looking at the flags section of the encyclopedia (ok, that dates me) for hours when I was a kid, so having a top list of African nations isn't all that farfetched. LOL.

Although, I am a bit disturbed that I'm the only one who commented on having a list. Hmmm...

Ice Cream Jonsey said...

5. Madagascar (the only way to thrive in Africa is to be OFF the actual continent?)

4. Niger (please)

3. Liberia (boy, it sounds pleasant there, just by the name)

2. Congo (thanks to Congo Bongo)

1. Egypt (thanks to the cover of Deluxe Paint for the Amiga, which I coveted greatly)

Sorry, Morocco! Bob and Linda could only afford to send junior to public school, so my pedestrian upbringing never encountered you.

Nanuk of the North said...

1. Lesotho. Because the flag had a hat on it, and I thought that was so cool. I also liked the sound of the word Lesotho.

2. Morocco. Hope and Crosby, and Casablanca. Blame the movies.

3. Tanzania. Because it had a part called Zanzibar which I thought sounded like the most exotic place in the world.

4. Upper Volta. Because there was no Lower Volta. Where was Lower Volta I demanded to know! Is that why they changed the name?

5. Togo. A country that sounded like a dog’s name. So cute, I thought.