A lot of countries are haltingly, painfully coming to terms with the fact that they’re not what they thought they were. The country of Jefferson and Johnson, of the Federalist Papers and the Marshall Plan, has made Donald Trump its leader. The British, long proud of being the cosmopolitan and economic centre of Europe, have just decided to kick out the Europeans and be the economic centre of nothing but themselves.
The thing to remember about Africa is, like everywhere else, it's about the people. Botswana has some fine-looking elephants, and Zambia has a lot of entertaining hippos. But none of them, as I discovered on my month-long solo bicycle trip across the eastern and southern sections of the continent, is a patch on the people, both foreign and domestic. By the time I joined them, the group had been cycling for three months.
This book is a rare thing. Despite the fact that it’s about the Second World War — why do we still go to this war for our drama and tales of moral certainties and ambiguities? — The Water Beetles has an ending that throws everything that’s happened before into a new light, though “light” here is not at all the right word. I’ve reviewed hundreds of books and read, probably, thousands, and I can think of two others that have managed this high-wire act of literary derring-do.