Book review of Through a Black Iris: Alick Chingapi writes about his travels from Cairo to Cape Town

Book review of Through a Black Iris: Alick Chingapi writes about his travels from Cairo to Cape Town

 
Alick Chingapi has a writing voice that will take him places.

 

Meet travel writer, Alick Chingapi

 
Alick Chingapi’s debut book Through a Black Iris — part memoir, part travelogue — is an absorbing account of the author’s trek from Cairo to Cape Town last year.

It opens with a gripping scene in which the author was detained at a camp for refugees in Rwanda. He went there to volunteer but soon fell foul of the authorities. Alick’s storytelling had me on the edge of my seat for the entire chapter. Questions raced through your mind as he told of his ordeal: will they let him go and above all, will they return his precious Zimbabwean passport?

Check out the preview of Through a Black Iris by Alick Chingapi on Amazon!

 

Voice

 
Alick has a voice to be reckoned with. He reflects on his journey with brutal honesty and wry, self-deprecating wit. The best scenes are the ones in which he describes being conned by taxi drivers and curio sellers.

At the start of his travels, Alick asked one especially relevant question that runs throughout the book: As a black man travelling through his own continent, would he get the same treatment and hospitality as white and foreign travellers?

He therefore sets out to bust his own preconceived ideas of Africa, which travel writers and bloggers often hail as the “dark continent”. His introspection is refreshing. He tells it like it is and leaves no stone unturned, least of all the ones harbouring his own thoughts and biases.

 

Characters

 
Alick’s narrative comes alive through the voices of fellow travellers. He often feels lonely and left out; the lone black man amid predominantly German travellers. But he also meets interesting characters, both local and foreign. His portrayal of these characters through action and dialogue is remarkable for a first-time writer. No character sounds the same, and in my head I have a clear image of the people he met on his journey.

 

Plot

 
Alick’s journey starts in Cairo, Egypt, where he encounters his first brush with dishonest taxi drivers. He takes the reader through the arduous process of applying for a visa to Sudan and shares his excitement, and melancholy, at visiting the pyramids. In addition to Egypt, he also travelled to Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho and Zimbabwe. Reading about all these places, I found myself almost getting on a bus to go and see them for myself. Most noteworthy is that he tried to use public transport as far as possible.

The real story for me is found in the hurdles, the obstacles, the moments of distress. His depictions of the bus are excellent: a whole narrative unfolds in these tense and uncertain encounters.

In each chapter, Alick tries to understand the history and politics of the country he’s in. He visits museums and memorials, which sometimes leave him deflated with sadness and at other times buoyant with hope.

 

Philosophy

 

“I don’t spend money on travel; I consider it an investment in myself. — Marta Vagas

“If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own.” — Chinua Achebe

These quotes greet the reader at the start of the book and embody the essence of Alick’s travel philosophy. Throughout the story, he aims to tell the tale of his own experience of the countries he visits. It’s a fresh new take on travelling through Africa. Despite the hardships and frustrations he endures, at the end he is still positive about Africa, and yearning to travel more.

 

A note on the editing

 
The book could have used a more ruthless editor. As writers, we tend to have blind spots when it comes to our errors. That’s why we need editors who can eviscerate the text until only the story remains. The persons who edited his book did Alick a disservice. His story is powerful and a cleaner copy would have made it more so. Finally, I’m also not fond of the title, but that’s just my opinion.
 

That being said, I would recommend Alick Chingapi’s book to anyone seeking an honest portrayal of Africa.

2 Comments

  1. Lindiwe

    Definitely want to read this. Cape to Cairo VB is in my bucket list but also am interested in Alick’s experiences and observations.

    Reply
    • Anna Stroud

      I recommend it. He’s an interesting person!

      Reply

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