This is a candid account of James Kilgo's African sojourn, conveying 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, colours. 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 travellers and the safari staff - their forays into the bush, visits to nearby vilages 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 travelling companions draw closer together, Kilgo measures what he has learned firsthand about Africa against his reading of those who had come 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; and 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?