cover image The Journey of Anders Sparrman

The Journey of Anders Sparrman

Per W%C3%A4stberg. Granta UK (IPG/Trafalgar Sq., dist.), $15.95 trade paper (402p) ISBN 978-1-84708-175-9

The real Dr. Anders Sparrman was a naturalist who sailed with Captain Cook to China and Africa, collected and mapped previously unknown specimens and spots, and played a small but important role in the Enlightenment. Fellow Swede W%C3%A4stberg (chairman of the Nobel Committee for Literature) has done him (and us) a service by freeing this serious, lonely, conscientious, humane man from the trap of history. He shows the wonderment that each new place, species, and custom engendered in Sparrman, the era's tenuous grip on a barely understood world, and how expanding knowledge went hand-in-hand with colonization. Sparrman was appalled by the slave trade and was convinced that the Africans he met were no less%E2%80%94or more%E2%80%94human than anyone else. Unfortunately, in W%C3%A4stberg's desire to be true to Sparrman's journals and letters, he gives ample space to the homely details that make a life%E2%80%94but not necessarily a novel. It's a relief when Sparrman finally falls in love, and W%C3%A4stberg effectively, if too preciously, shows how love is its own kind of new land. It's clear that for W%C3%A4stberg this was a labor of love, but for the reader it too often feels like labor. (Sept.)