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Monday, December 21, 2015

The Roots of Heaven (1956) by Romain Gary

Book Review
The Roots of Heaven (1956)
 by Romain Gary

   The Roots of Heaven is like...if Wes Anderson made an adventure film.  Although John Houston actually did make a movie out of it only two years after it was published.  The Roots of Heaven is about rag tag group of European misfits on a quixotic quest to save the elephants in the northern part of French Equatorial Africa.  They are a mixed bag, a French partisan, a young German woman working as a bar hostess in Chad, a Danish naturalist and an American "traitor" who was disgraced by North Korean captors by being forced to denounce the United States over the radio.  Together they roam the wastes of present day Chad and Central African Republic, burning down the homesteads of people engaged in the Ivory trade.

  They combine forces with a nascent French speaking African revolutionary, late an actual member of Parliament of France under their unique system where colonies were made part of France itself.  Gary is forward thinking in his discussion of ideas like nationalism and environmentalism.  He really is quite prescient in handling questions that maintain their relevance today.

 Although the philosophizing can get a bit thick in the tradition of many philosophical novels written by French authors, the setting and terrorism angle help the lengthy discussions of environmentalism, nationalism, communism and capitalism go down easy.

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