Book recommendation: “Der Zoo der Anderen” by Jan Mohnhaupt

Source: Hanser Literaturverlag

Here is another book I recently read, and that I wish to review here in English despite it being written in German. The journalist Jan Mohnhaupt has written a detailed report of what happened to the two Berlin zoos during the Cold War, that I found captivating and moving. I have been to both the Zoo and the Tierpark, but at the time with only a vague idea of their history – I am even more curious to come back after this read, to see the animals, trees and enclosures not only as themselves in the present time, but also as traces of a complex past. The interesting side of this book is that the story of the zoos and of the people who managed them and worked there sounded to me as a net of complex, but understandable, human stories, about people who showed the highest dedication to the cause of wildlife, but also had to play smart on the Cold War chess board and to deal with personal life obstacles.

I also have the feeling to be a little more Berliner, with this new piece of local knowledge. I still oscillate between feeling “local” or “foreign” in this city, and I oddly feel close to the most beloved animals in the zoo: adopted by the visitors as true citizens, but forever (hopelessly?) foreign, as members of an exotic species.

Panda bear Bao Bao – source: Berlin Zoo website

I warmly recommend this book to whom has a good German level, and I hope it will be translated to English soon!

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Book recommendation – “Mhudi” by Solomon T. Plaatje

Today I wish to write about a book I read several years ago in its Italian translation: the novel “Mhudi”, written by the South African author Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje in 1919 (published in 1930). Plaatje was the first black South African to write a novel in English; he was a politician, activist, intellectual, translator (he spoke seven languages) and writer.

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The narrative is centered on the development of the Transvaal kingdom, seen by the eyes of Mhudi and Ra-Thaga, a Barolong couple displaced by the Matabele invaders. The courage and hope of Mhudi are the moving forces of the entire story, and her point of view was (and still is) a less well-known insight of tribal wars and South African folklore, deeply intertwined with colonial wars.

I remember reading this book in the spring sun on the banks of Adige river. Mountains around, alpine plants, Italian houses around me could not take me away from the parched plains and hot sun of South Africa. The flow of narration was so captivating that I read it in few takes, feeling enriched by the numerous historical references and the personal story of Mhudi and Ra-Thaga. It also remembered me my stay in South Africa, in Gauteng province, with some trips to northern Limpopo, where I took these pictures:

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I hope you enjoy the novel! Let me know your impressions in the comments.