Colors of Africa

James Kilgo
With illustrations by the author

"Kilgo has . . . a clean, direct style that is lyrical without becoming sentimental. . . . The obvious comparison is to Hemingway."-New York Times Book Review


"I can think of few authors so well qualified to write a book like this. James Kilgo, naturalist, spiritual thinker, hunter, historian, and, above all, author extraordinaire, has written something 'about' an African safari—but only in the way, say, that Melville wrote 'about' whaling. A splendid accomplishment."
—Sydney Lea, author of Hunting the Whole Way Home

"Not everyone who visits Africa gets there in spirit. Bad Africa books abound, the detritus of ill-conceived travel. After reading this sharp-eyed, deeply felt, and clearly thought account of a safari to Zambia’s Luangwa River valley, I can see that not only did Jim Kilgo get to Africa; he was preparing to go all along. In Africa, he confronts in vivid, searching prose the tragic relation between man and nature embodied in the hunt and the many paradoxes of self and culture hunting reveals to us. He has a keen eye for the beauty of wildlife and landscape and a great appetite for the pleasures of being afield. Colors of Africa is not only a fine Africa book, it is a key to Jim Kilgo’s art and life. He has taken the skills honed on his home landscape in fiction and nonfiction and tested them in the revealing light of Africa, where what is universal in his voice comes through loud and clear."
—Christopher Camuto, author of Hunting from Home

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This extraordinary, candid account of James Kilgo's African sojourn conveys the untamed beauty of the bush country with the attention of a seasoned naturalist and the wonder of a first-time visitor. With startling immediacy Kilgo recalls what Zambia's Luangwa River valley revealed to him: its voices, scents, textures, and, most meaningfully, colors. Hues like sienna, ochre, and umber forged a visceral link between the people, animals, and landscapes Kilgo encountered and the muted palette of ancient rock paintings in caves and overhangs across southern Africa.

Kilgo barely knew the man who invited him to Africa. A further complication: the trip was a big-game safari, which conjured troubling images of privilege and excess. Yet he went, as an observer, for Africa had enthralled him since boyhood. Kilgo's recollections of his fellow travelers and the safari staff--their forays into the bush, visits to nearby villages, and long evening talks about nature, family, and faith--are all informed by a growing awareness of Africa's complexities and contradictions. As he reflects on the swirl of customs and beliefs all around him, as he and his traveling companions draw closer together, Kilgo measures what he has learned firsthand about Africa against his readings of those who came before him, including explorer and missionary David Livingstone, writers Ernest Hemingway and Isak Dinesen, and environmentalists Mark and Delia Owens.

Kilgo thinks often about hunting: about the days-long initiatory rites of local native hunters; the motivations, beyond money, that can drive a poacher; the carnage the animals visit on each other nightly just outside the walls of the idyllic safari compound. Near the end of his stay, he is offered the chance to hunt a kudu, the great antelope of storied elusiveness. Pondering this unexpected opportunity, Kilgo wonders: Has he connected sufficiently with this remarkable place to justify his participation in the hunt? Is he ready and, above all, is he worthy?

Brown Thrasher Books

Page count: 224 pp.
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5


List price: $24.95

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James Kilgo (1941-2002) was a member of the University of Georgia English department faculty for over thirty years and director of the creative writing program from 1994 to 1996. His books include Daughter of My People, Deep Enough for Ivorybills, Colors of Africa, and Inheritance of Horses (all Georgia).