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Mimi and Toutou Go Forth


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About the Author

Giles Foden was born in Warwickshire in 1967 and grew up in Africa. The author of three novels -- Zanzibar, Ladysmith and The Last King of Scotland -- he works on the books pages of the Guardian. From 1993 to 1997 he was an assistant editor of the TLS. In 1998 he won the Whitbread First Novel Award and a Somerset Maugham Prize.


At the outbreak of World War I, a secondary strategy of the Allies was to isolate and control German East Africa. Germany had had the foresight to place some armed boats on Lake Tanganyika, which effectively controlled all transportation in East Africa. The obscure, and very peculiar, British naval officer Geoffrey Spicer-Simpson was directed to take Mimi and Toutou, two 40-foot gunboats, overland from South Africa to the lake and defeat a fleet of German steamers. Spicer-Simpson went into battle wearing a skirt, was worshiped as a god by the Holo Holo tribe, entirely alienated his subordinates, and more or less succeeded in reducing the German naval presence through a combination of effective military action and slapstick. The events that transpired were eventually transmogrified into The African Queen, though they were significantly changed in the process. Offering a mix of colorful characters, hubris, pluck, and idiocy, Foden (The Last King of Scotland) has crafted an entertaining and highly readable analysis of a mostly forgotten episode in the Great War. A fine addition to subject collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/04.]-Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Another delightful tale sieved from the flotsam of African military history from a writer who is fast creating a niche of his own Arena Foden has brought to life one of the strangest episodes of the first world war'... a real romp through the desert of darkness and extremely funny Sunday Times Giles Foden writes with wit ... give it a read Literary Review

At the height of WWI, as armies of thousands fought with each other on European soil, a much more unusual battle was waged in eastern Africa, where Belgian and German colonial territories were separated by the second largest body of water on the continent, Lake Tanganyika. An English big-game hunter living in the region came up with a plan to take out the German warships that patrolled the lake, and command of the mission was given to Geoffrey Spicer-Samson, a career officer whose boorish incompetence had earned him the dubious distinction of being the oldest lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy. Foden (The Last King of Scotland) delivers his novelistic skills with full effect in depicting the absurdity of Spicer and his campaign, from the self-designed skirts he wore to combat the heat to his status as "Navyman God" among the local natives when his small motorboats-named with the French words for "miaow" and "bow-wow"-actually managed to capture and sink much larger enemy ships. Charming illustrations at the head of each chapter, along with the hand-drawn maps, further add to this tale's quirky appeal. Closing chapters add a poignant epilogue, explaining how Spicer's story inspired C.S. Forester's The African Queen, and noting the disappearance of the events from the memory of modern Tanzanians. Foden's engrossing account is not just for military historians or lovers of exotic locales; it should please anyone who loves a good story. (Apr. 7) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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