January 2008

Benjamin Jacob Hollars

nonfiction

Whatever You Do, Don't Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide by Peter Allison

When wandering through the Botswanian wilderness, you could ask for no better ally than Peter Allison. An experienced safari guide with a genuine love for the country and its animals, Allison’s debut, Whatever You Do, Don’t Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide recounts his experiences.

In his brief, somewhat humorous essays, Allison offers readers the exact type of tales one comes to expect from an African travel memoir -- man’s misguided flirtations with the wild. Yet Allison’s run-ins with lions, hippos and warthogs do little to expand upon the genre or offer any unique conclusions. Instead, it takes the easy road by capitalizing on a tried and true principle of travel writing: dangerous animals, human error and exotic locales, when thrust together, always make for a good story.

While the majority of Allison’s anecdotes manage to hold the reader’s attention, disappointedly, he fails to fully immerse the reader within the colorful African landscape. The pages are full of wildlife adventures, but by the end we are left feeling alienated from the country itself. Where exactly is Xaxaba? Who are the Shangaan tribe? The opportunities for dwelling on the intricacies of the country are often ignored, and all the humorous anecdotes in the world cannot make up for the lack of landscape.

Another shortcoming resides in the language itself. While Allison’s plain-spoken prose is highly accessible, its accessibility does little to engage the reader at a higher level. The book relies solely on his accumulated stories, and the language often feels like a byproduct of the plot rather than functioning in tandem with his experiences to achieve something greater. Without question, Peter Allison’s adventures are exciting, though the casualness of his tone robs his work from the attention it deserves.

Undoubtedly, sitting around a fire listening to Peter Allison describe his encounters with the natural world would be an event worth traveling half the globe to experience. Yet when his stories are translated to book form, they feel stripped of their honesty. The humor occasionally seems injected rather than organically grown. The observations feel canned, not original. It is as if Allison sugarcoats his experiences in order to give us a giggle, though much is lost in the process.

Whatever You Do, Don't Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide by Peter Allison
The Lyons Press
ISBN: 0762745657
264 Pages