Review: Flying Snakes and Green Turtles: Tanzania Up Close by Evelyn Voigt

Flying Snakes and Green TurtlesFlying Snakes and Green Turtles: Tanzania Up Close is a love story. Not just between Geoff and Vicky Fox, but also their love of Tanzania. This small nation in Eastern Africa may not be well-known and that is a shame. Tanzania is one of the poorest countries economically, but its biodiversity abounds and astonishes those who witness it first-hand.

The scope of this work is vast. It takes the reader on a journey that begins before World War II and doesn’t end until the present. Along the way, the reader learns about Nazi incursions into Tanzania, tea companies, postwar events, the Cold War, Tanzania’s quest for independence(politically and economically), the plights of wildlife, HIV/AIDS and so much more.  While the subjects that are discussed are varied, the information is easy to absorb due to one simple fact: the author has chosen to center all of these topics around the Fox family. This grounds the reader and makes the information tangible. Seeing how all of these aspects affect individuals, instead of society as a whole, demonstrates how world events impact people on the human level.

For the most part, Geoff and Vicky are speaking to the readers via interviews or their letters that have been kept over the years. It’s as if the reader is transported magically to their fireside and is listening to their story instead of reading the words on the page. Vicky’s determination, bravery, and intelligence shines through. Geoff’s sense of humor and storytelling capabilities will charm most readers. He’s quite cheeky and it’s hard not to laugh out loud. The author, Evelyn Voigt, isn’t silent and pops in to relay important information about the history behind the stories.

Geoff’s and Vicky’s tales are filled with humor, but serious subjects aren’t avoided. It would be impossible to relate Tanzania’s history without focusing on all the trials and tribulations of the people and wildlife. Poaching is a huge problem. The money, corruption, and devastation will turn some stomachs.

Another heartbreaking aspect of this small nation is the damage HIV/AIDS has caused. The author plants seeds in the reader’s mind that something terrible is on the horizon. But the suspense builds up slowly. First there are some unexplainable deaths. Slowly, realization starts to dawn. Then it’s a full-blown epidemic that is devastating not just families, but the nation. The inclusion of victims and one brave woman adds a wonderful and eye-opening level to this work. Again, this book’s biggest strength is making history real. Not just dates, names, and places. Readers relate more to individuals.

Having a personal history that spans decades is not an easy task. There is the risk of too much or too little information. Finding the right balance is like walking a tight-rope. For the most part, the author and editor have struck gold. Occasionally, a few tidbits that show off Geoff’s charm and not the actual history seep in. But the stories are delightful and it’s easy to forgive the small diversions and enjoy the ride.

The Fox history will hopefully motivate many readers and show that individuals do impact history and they can work with others to benefit society as a whole. Their dedication and love of a nation that many haven’t heard of is inspiring. While the book isn’t a complete history of the people, culture, and wildlife, it’s a wonderful glimpse and an excellent start.

The US Review of Books


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