Monday, July 16, 2018

Mimi and Toutou go forth - A book review

Every once in a while you read a book that makes you think:

·     This is weirder than most fiction I ever read.
·    And why has no one made a movie out of this?

“Mimi and Toutou go forth” is such a book. It deals with the battle of Lake Tanganyika (even the name of the battle seems too weird to be real. But it is) in 1915. This battle was fought between British and German Navy ships and resulted in a British victory.

Why and how a battle was fought on the worlds second largest, oldest and deepest lake (not to mention it lies nearly 800 meters above sea level) and how those ships got there in the first place is a tale whose epic proportions are only rivalled by its absurd details.

In the not unlikely case you have never heard of the Battle of Lake Tanganyika, perhaps it helps to know that it was an episode of the Great War in Africa. The Germans controlled the lake through two warships sailing on it one of which, the Gotzen, had been specifically designed for that purpose. This also gave them control of most lines of supply in that arena, since the area consisted mostly of impassable bush, jungle or rivers, everything being connected by the lake, stretching southwards for some 400 kilometers all the way from current Burundi. 

A British great game hunter named Lee came up with a bold plan to transport two heavily armed motorboats to the lake, basing them from the Belgian side and use those to break the German hold on the lake. A British officer named Spicer-Simpson who in many ways was more caricatural than many a caricature commanded this tiny fleet and the rest, literally, is history.....

Giles Foden recounts the details of this incredible story in brilliant tongue-in-cheek prose, serving a bizarre episode of history rich with colonial arrogance and jingoistic madness with a pleasant dose of humour.  

He finishes with no less amusing details about the book and the movie "The African Queen" which were loosely based on these events. So apparently someone did make a movie out of this. It is just a shame the most amazing events were omitted from book and movie alike to serve the public an easier and more believable tale with some romance in it. And to such an extent that few would guess the book was related to the battle of Lake Tanganyika. 

For last, however, he saves the harsh present. Hitching a ride on Liemba, the last surviving ship of that battle, he recounts the hard lives people in that region still have to live, the fleeting benefits of "civilisation" and colonialism and most of all the transience of events once great but now forgotten by nearly everyone. A sobering finale. 

Nevertheless the book is a great read and I'd recommend it to anyone.