Saturday, May 30, 2009

The African Queen by C.S. Forester

What can I really say about the book The African Queen that isn’t already well-known as an award-winning movie? Originally published in 1935, this exceptional book was fairly closely reproduced in the movie in 1951 with relatively minor changes, the most obvious being that the main male character, Charlie Allnutt, was (and is) written as a Cockney character, whereas Humphrey Bogart, who played the role, was unable to carry this accent off and the character was rewritten. The time period of the story is the WWI-era in what is now called Tanzania. This book is a wonderfully exhilarating and inspiring story of faith, craftsmanship, relationship and adventure; a veritable roller-coaster ride.

The characters are very consistent in their growth and change, and Rose, the missionary’s sister left alone in Central Africa when her brother dies, shows her true spunk, tenacity and passion previously hidden in the type of life she had led in the past. Allnutt also grows in creativity, strength of character, and realization of self. The combination is volatile, electric, and passionate by turns and the interaction plays out well. Rose’s determination to “do her part for the Empire” so to speak, clashes with Allnutt’s wish to remain alive. He knows the rivers and the delicate condition of his boat, African Queen. He also is aware that nothing except a canoe has ever even attempted to go down the miles of rapids and cataracts she is proposing to do in order to reach Lake Wittelsbach. This is where the German gunboat Konigin Luise is patrolling to keep the British from gaining access to the German colony in Central Africa. Her proposal includes the destruction of this vessel.

Allnutt eventually agrees and with his engineering experience and handyman abilities, he decides that he after all can create torpedoes from items at hand. So begins the adventure of a lifetime. Malaria, torrential rains, lightning most nights, mosquitoes, flies and other insects in vast clouds around them, and damage to the boat, nothing gets in the way of their determination. I absolutely loved this book, the action, drama, excitement, and character was so complete, I almost felt myself running the rapids with them. Having loved the movie, I was surprised and delighted to find that the book had been reissued in 2006 and immediately purchased it. I am so glad I did. Once you get used to the cockney wording when Allnutt speaks, it reads beautifully. Adventure is definitely the most obvious, but the evolution of the characters is marvelous! I highly recommend this book for all the above reasons.

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