BOOK REVIEW: Dark Tourist by Hasanthika Sirisena

Dark Tourist: EssaysDark Tourist: Essays by Hasanthika Sirisena
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This collection of, mostly autobiographical, essays rambles over a territory that includes: grief, the immigrant experience, sexuality, art and catharsis, and the profound impact of self-perception on one’s experience of life. The title most directly links to one of the more evocative essays, “Confessions of a Dark Tourist,” which is about the author’s travels back to her native country, Sri Lanka, to visit the northern region where a vicious civil war played out most intensely. [For those unfamiliar with the term, “dark tourism” is travel to areas that have recently experienced upheaval due to war, economic collapse, intranational conflict, or large-scale accidents and disasters.]

I used the term “rambles” in my opening sentence, and these essays (even within essays) can take the reader places a lawyer would object to on the grounds of relevance. That said, it’s a far better thing to be rambling and interesting than tidy and dull, and this book does a good job of keeping it interesting, using stories that are (I presume) meant to symbolically link to a point at hand. Sometimes, that symbolism hits, and sometimes it might not, but it does make for a compelling read. The author is valiantly candid about her personal struggles, particularly as they pertain to issues of self-perception owing to a lazy eye and her [bi-] sexuality.

If you’re a reader of essays and creative nonfiction, I’d recommend you give this book a look.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Chimpanzee Whisperer by Stany Nyandwi w/ David Blissett

I Am Stany: The Life and Loves of a Chimpanzee WhispererI Am Stany: The Life and Loves of a Chimpanzee Whisperer by Stany Nyandwi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: February 22, 2022

These are the memoirs of a man who made a career from his ability to read and interact with chimpanzees. However, lest one expect a Gerald Durrell-style book filled with amusing animal anecdotes and witty lessons on how to build a zoo, one should note that Stany Nyandwi faced poverty and many a tragedy in his life that make this animal-interest book also a human-interest story from cover to cover. [Note: There are many chimpanzee stories and insights into how sanctuaries and reserves are run, but they are interspersed with visceral tales of calamity and sorrow.]

The book tells of Stany’s youth in Burundi, a country that would fall into a vicious civil war as he came of age and then got the first job that might pull him out of brutal poverty (into regular poverty,) working as a laborer at a chimpanzee sanctuary. It wasn’t long before the sanctuary had to be shut down because of the dangers of the war between Tutsis and Hutus. Because his work ethic and talent with chimps had begun to show, he was offered jobs first in Kenya and then in Uganda. Traveling with the sanctuary chimps would separate him from his family (a wife and children, not to mention his parents and siblings) during the worst years of the war, leading him down a self-destructive path for a time, but then things seem to improve. Always when one thinks his life is settling into a healthy stability, there’s a spanner into the works. Yet, the author keeps finding the bright side, and being saved by that positivity and his gift for working with chimpanzees, a gift which makes him a man in demand despite his lack of education or resources.

This book is an emotional roller-coaster ride, but throughout we are saved by the author’s indefatigable positivity and humanity – perhaps, the traits that allowed him to get along so well with the chimpanzees. I’d highly recommend it for all readers.


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