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Book Title: Brazzaville Beach|
The author of the book: William Boyd
Edition: BBC Audiobooks (Audio Go)
Date of issue: 2010
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 7.20 MB
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Loaded: 1231 times
Reader ratings: 3.8
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I delighted in this book because it tells a compelling human story with a rich framework of ideas that appeal to me. The tale is of a woman, Hope Clearwater, reflecting back on her work and marriage in England to a mathematician and her work and life studying chimp behavior in the Republic of Congo, both of which ended in disaster. She is unable to move forward without making some sense out of the wisdom vs. stupidities in her role in the disasters. As quoted from Socrates in the epilogue and close of the book, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”
Boyd alternates the narrative of Hope’s life in Africa, told in first person, with that of her life in England, rendered in third person. The contrast between these two parts of her life, as well as Western and African cultures, represents a central challenge for Hope (and thus Boyd) to integrate. Each section is introduced with a segment from mathematical or biological sciences, which reflect on work concerns of her mathematician husband or herself. I love how Boyd has Hope trying to use analogies from academic advances to provide structure for her efforts to understand her life’s journey. For example, her husband John makes a lot of progress in areas of turbulence and catastrophe theory, which fuels her efforts to account for sudden discontinuities in her own life; as John’s own psychological instability leads him to focus instead on invariance of forms in the field of topology, she looks to how other people differ from her ultimately in only in minor ways. She also learns a lot about the relativism of frames of reference, which she relates her own mood influencing her levels of optimism or pessimism. To me Boyd isn’t making a heavy philosophical stretch here, but he is illustrating very well how people link abstract ideas to their personal lives and outlook.
In the case of Hope’s work at the research station, the parallels between primate and human behavior represent a more substantive analogy. For decades, Jane Goodall’s work on chimps in their natural environment captivated the world with a vision of largely peaceful, almost Edenic, society, which we, as their closest evolutionary relatives, might somehow aspire to regain. The shock of discovery that chimps in some circumstances engage in infanticide, cannibalism, and lethal territorial warfare put an end to such simplistic thinking. As this work was widely publicized, it is not much of a spoiler to reveal that the plot of this book deals with Hope making discoveries of such violence and encountering conflicts and resistance in acceptance of her findings. I thought Boyd’s portrayal of conflicts between scientific objectivity and human biases and emotions to be quite plausible, although I am sure the scientists involved in this work would be offended over the dramatic fiction.
The book includes a segment where the unstable politics of the Congo intrude dangerously on the lives of the scientists in the form of actions by a revolutionary faction. Compared to the murder of gorilla researcher Dian Fossey in Rwanda, the events included in this narrative are restrained, but frighteningly realistic. The charming rebel leader featured, Dr. Amilcar, deflates Hope’s sense of the importance of her scientific work by exclaiming “You value a monkey more than a human” and by concluding “You think that if you know everything you can escape from the world. But you can’t.”
Hope is a fully realized character that I admired both as a strong woman hero and as a very human scientist. As made clear at the start, she survives the cataclysmic climaxes of both threads of her life revealed at the end. As she walks the beach at the end, as in interludes elsewhere in the book, the theme of permanence despite perpetual change is realized. Like life itself, a simple story of powerful events linked to a few choices resonates with many universal themes.
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Read information about the authorNote: William^^Boyd
Of Scottish descent, Boyd was born in Accra, Ghana on 7th March, 1952 and spent much of his early life there and in Nigeria where his mother was a teacher and his father, a doctor. Boyd was in Nigeria during the Biafran War, the brutal secessionist conflict which ran from 1967 to 1970 and it had a profound effect on him.
At the age of nine years he attended Gordonstoun school, in Moray, Scotland and then Nice University (Diploma of French Studies) and Glasgow University (MA Hons in English and Philosophy), where he edited the Glasgow University Guardian. He then moved to Jesus College, Oxford in 1975 and completed a PhD thesis on Shelley. For a brief period he worked at the New Statesman magazine as a TV critic, then he returned to Oxford as an English lecturer teaching the contemporary novel at St Hilda's College (1980-83). It was while he was here that his first novel, A Good Man in Africa (1981), was published.
Boyd spent eight years in academia, during which time his first film, Good and Bad at Games, was made. When he was offered a college lecturership, which would mean spending more time teaching, he was forced to choose between teaching and writing.
Boyd was selected in 1983 as one of the 20 'Best of Young British Novelists' in a promotion run by Granta magazine and the Book Marketing Council. He also became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in the same year, and is also an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He has been presented with honorary doctorates in literature from the universities of St. Andrews, Stirling and Glasgow. He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2005.
Boyd has been with his wife Susan since they met as students at Glasgow University and all his books are dedicated to her. His wife is editor-at-large of Harper's Bazaar magazine, and they currently spend about thirty to forty days a year in the US. He and his wife have a house in Chelsea, West London but spend most of the year at their chateau in Bergerac in south west France, where Boyd produces award-winning wines.
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