The Man of Passage by Ian Mathie
|The Man of Passage by Ian Mathie|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Memoir, travel writing, fictionalised memoir and short stories combine to produce a book which is un-put-downable in places. It's heavy on Mathie's own successes but is still an enjoyable read.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 232||Date: November 2006|
|Publisher: Live Wire Books|
Ian Mathie's association with Africa began when his father was posted to what was then Northern Rhodesia when Mathie was just four years old. School was in a convent and was run by German and Italian nuns and for a while he was the only white child amongst a couple of hundred Africans. Even when he was joined by others he was still part of an ethnic minority although he didn't realise it! He was taught in the local language and grew up with the local children. It was his home and was to be the centre of his life for decades to come.
A Man of Passage is a mixture of memoir, travel writing, fictionalised memoir and short stories. Purists will probably be groaning as my description suggests something of a mish-mash. Stay with me though because the combination might be eclectic, but I found some fascinating stories and many parts of the book are un-put-downable.
The titular 'Man of Passage' (that's him pictured on the cover) wanders from place to place with little in the way of possessions and no family. His animals have been taken by raiders but he never has to beg as he will always be helped – as he was by Mathie and his companion – because people recognise him for what he is. The contrast with what would happen in the 'civilised' world struck me and I realised that we have a lesson to learn from those who have little but who can still support those who have less. The more I read the more I felt that the title could also refer to the author, who travels from place to place, but this under-estimates Mathie's own resourcefulness. Somehow I can't see him ever having to beg. I thought at first that some stories would annoy me – The Visa and Togo Telephone Tango spring to mind – as they highlight the inefficiencies and bureaucracy which Mathie encountered in his work, but the stories are told with affection and a sense of humour, with the occasional twist against Mathie himself. Reproduction of dialect is not his strong point but it wasn't overdone and I was left with a smile.
Other stories are particularly moving and Mathie has a talent for creating atmosphere and suspense. I began reading Sphinx late one night and simply couldn't put it down. It's just eighteen pages long, but they're intense and there's a twist in the tale which I didn't see coming until the last sentence. Similarly A Short Walk in Ituri is excellent travel writing and a testament to the fact that you don't need money to experience the best of the world. There's humour (a set of holes masquerading as socks still makes me chuckle) and a talent for conveying the dangers and beauty of the bush.
Mathie is obviously a resourceful man and well at home in the Dark Continent. Quite how he's coping with the rigours of life in Warwickshire with a wife and a dog, I'm not certain, but I'm sure that he'll be making the most of it. He's positive and has a 'can-do' attitude and it's this that produced my only real problem with the book. Just occasionally it's a little too self-congratulatory, too much of a list of his successes where others failed and this might not go down well with some readers. If you can put this to one side then it's a very enjoyable and enlightening book.
I'd like to thank the author for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
For more of Africa we can recommend Traversa by Fran Sandham.
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