cover image The Black Rhinos of Namibia: Searching for Survivors in the African Desert

The Black Rhinos of Namibia: Searching for Survivors in the African Desert

Rick Bass. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-0-547-05521-3

Novelist and memoirist Bass (Why I Came West) records his travels to Namibia to “witness... a ponderous beast out upon such a naked and seemingly unsupporting landscape.” At Damaraland, in the Namib Desert, Bass encounters activist Mike Hearn of the Save the Rhino Trust. Throughout the book, Bass renders an affectionate portrait of Hearn and his life’s work defending rhinos. No actual rhino appears until more than halfway through, when searches culminate in two perilous and riveting encounters. Later, Bass travels from Damaraland to the tamer and popular Etosha National Park. While the rhino’s plight, and efforts to ensure its recovery, are given considerable attention, Bass’s time in the desert, among its animals and vastness, focuses him on “the big questions”: the origin of life, the rhino’s miraculous adaptation to the desert’s austerity, and what humanity can learn from the magnificent animal. Time in the desert also yields touching meditations on time itself—its nature, and our experience of it. To describe the desert, another protagonist, Bass must examine the nature of perception: “The barren land unscrolls before us as if being created by the very act of our seeing.” On occasion, Bass struggles to infuse the ruminations with poetry; his prose, packed with similes and comparisons, can be cumbersome. Agent: Robert Datilla, the Phoenix Literary Agency. (Aug.)