cover image Darwin's Dreampond: Drama in Lake Victoria

Darwin's Dreampond: Drama in Lake Victoria

Tijs Goldschmidt. MIT Press (MA), $40 (280pp) ISBN 978-0-262-07178-9

There is a whimsical quality to this engaging first-person narrative of a Dutch biologist in a Tanzanian fishing village. There is also a lot of science. Goldschmidt joined an environmental impact study at Lake Victoria in the 1980s and encountered the furu, a fish whose radiation into hundreds of species far exceeds Darwin's better-known Galapagos Island finches. After introducing a ""species flock"" that includes creatures with such monikers as mud-biters, scale-scrapers, and snail-crushers, Goldschmidt guides the reader through a jungle of evolutionary theory that gets a bit eye-glazing at times. Fortunately, he is equally devoted to his comic misadventures among bureaucrats, missionaries, fisherfolk and fellow mzungu, or European ""wanderers."" Meanwhile, the prolific Nile perch, introduced in 1985 and hailed as the savior of the Tanzanian economy, appears to be bringing the furu's evolution to an abrupt end. In an early scene that might stand for both the wanderer's predicament and that of the furu, Goldschmidt questions an old man to determine if an expected Dutch boat could get stuck in a narrow Tanzanian tunnel: ""`If I understand you correctly, everything can and cannot pass through the tunnel?' `Eh,' said the old man, grinning broadly... `You couldn't have put it better. Wewe mwenjiji, you are one of us. Welcome.'"" (Oct.)