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The Healing Land


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The son of a South African mother and a Rhodesian father but raised in London, travel writer Isaacson felt a longing for the Bushmen of his mother's stories and of Laurens Van Der Post's The Lost World of the Kalahari. Things are different today; in postapartheid South Africa, the question of the survival of the Bushmen is framed by their struggle to gain back their land. Dispossessed from their wide roaming areas by a series of foreign invaders over the course of the 20th century, Bushmen have gradually been moved to reservations where they can't hunt or heal in traditional ways. Alcohol abuse and domestic violence have become common. At first, Isaacson looks for the mythical Bushman, who rises before dawn to track and kill wild animals, stops for a reflective pause in the shade to offer spiritual parables and caps the day by a campfire barbecue with singing and dancing into the small hours of the night. But as Isaacson struggles with drunk villagers, broken-down vehicles and petty scamming by people accustomed to living off the stupidity of tourists, he loses his navet and finds his real Bushmen, eventually forming his own bond with them. This isn't spiritual tourism; Isaacson's account is too funky and too honest about the very human weaknesses of real-life Bushmen. Still, readers come away with respect for the struggles of all indigenous people, coupled with an awareness that they may not live particularly pretty lives themselves. Agent, Kim Witherspoon. (Mar.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

The author of several guidebooks (e.g., Southern Africa on the Wild Side), Isaacson grew up in London listening to nostalgic stories of the Kalahari from relatives, and his desire to visit the strange and mystic land led to a grown man's adventure. Isaacson demystifies the Kalahari of his boyhood imagination to present a sincere and charming chronicle of vanishing lifestyles and a touching account of the Bushmen and their land. His images are sometimes as exotic as those conjured by his relatives, but his story is warmer and more empathetic. Though history, adventure, and social commentary intermingle with the mysticism of legendary healers and trance dances, the book remains a journalistic report on a clash of civilizations and a microcosmic portrayal of a continent's evolution. Isaacson writes simply and well. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Edward K. Owusu-Ansah, CUNY Coll. of Staten Island Lib., NY Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.

"Isaacson provides a welcome update...with his unflinching portrait of a people riven by government relocation, alcoholism, and domestic violence. Yet he remains awed by the Bushmen's enduring connection to the earth, and guardedly optimistic about their future."

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