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In the Company of Adventure

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In The Company of Adventure

by Jorge Alves De Lima. 334 pages. 9 Color maps, 159 Black & White photos. Indexed. Hardback. Trophy Room Books, Box 3041, Agoura, CA 91301, USA. Price: $150.

My friend Bob Poos, who at the time was the Managing Editor of Soldier of Fortune magazine, was loath to celebrate his fiftieth birthday by himself so the day before his birthday I agreed to drive from my (then) home in Southern Colorado, more than a hundred miles north to Boulder where the magazine’s offices were located. The next day he was given an office birthday party and that evening Bob and I went drinking to celebrate the passage of a half-century of adventure.

That night, after a pleasant evening of sampling Boulder’s beverages Poos leaned across the table and made a simple statement that has stayed with me in the thirty years since that night:

"You realize, my friend," Poos slurred, "that you and I are of the sort of people who could die now and still have lived more adventure than most men can dream in a lifetime."

Throughout my reading of In The Company of Adventure the words that Poos said to me on his fiftieth kept coming to the front of my mind because Jorge Alves De Lima had also enjoyed a lifetime of adventure that I could only dream of.

I am fully aware that some people may balk at the notion of applying a reference to Peter Capstick as a measurement of a text such as the work of Jorge Alves De Lima. It may not be (in their view) appropriate but my assertion is based upon my research of Capstick’s texts as part of the research supporting my graduate studies at the University of North Dakota. In my study of how an outdoor adventure text affects the reader I found that Capstick had taken Hemingway’s "Iceberg Principle" of writing and expanded upon it by a reapplication of the principle to a succession of paragraphs, with each paragraph resolving issues of the previous paragraph. Thus, because of this pattern of constructing text Capstick’s writing had a pronounced affect on readers. They continued to read his text because the only way to obtain a resolution to each paragraph is to read the next, and the next, and the next, but with the full awareness that each paragraph would be, in part, unresolved. Capstick’s trademark as an author, then, is this constant building of anticipation by the reader.

Many Capstick readers have remarked that after they began reading one of his books they were unable to put the book down, regardless of their feelings toward the author "because of the anticipation of what would happen next." Another, frequently heard comment, is that after reading a Capstick book the reader felt physically tired, as if they had been with him in the story. This sort of tension building is a literary device commonly used by skilled fiction writers but rarely by authors of nonfiction unless they are falling back on creative nonfiction as their form. "The Capstick affect" is this paragraph building of sustained tension in a nonfiction adventure text.

Jorge was born into Brazilian aristocracy and wealth and he was educated in the United States. He enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle that he could have easily maintained if he had followed the path his father had planned for him. Instead, in 1947 in New York Harbor he boarded a small passenger ship that was bound for London where he bought a Holland and Holland .500/.465 double rifle, a military .30-06 rifle and a .30-06 hunting rifle and then set off on his dream—to be an African White Hunter.

The difference between Jorge and most people is he accomplished his dream—he became a white hunter. He was in the right place at the right time. By the fortunate convergence of politics, economics and the world’s interest in Africa, when Jorge entered French Equatorial Africa the old order of colonialism still dominated local politics and the stampede of tourist-hunters that would follow on the heels of Robert Ruark and Hemingway’s second safari were more than two decades away. Consequently, Africa, especially that half of Africa from the equator south, still included vast tracts of lands filled with game and magnificent trophies. After a few false steps Jorge managed to insert himself into the world of professional hunting and he killed his first elephant—making that leap from sport hunter to professional hunter.

But Jorge maintained a strong connection to the ideals of the sport hunter. Early in the text, on page 37, Jorge relates the story of a hartebeest hunt. His brother and a wealthy uncle had decided to join him in Africa for a safari (one that Jorge hadn’t planned for), and the two brothers were hunting Lord Derby Eland when they came upon a small herd of hartebeests. The two brothers decided to shoot two of the animals for meat because both their camp and the nearby village larders were both empty. Both brothers fired and two of the hartebeests broke away from the herd. They crossed the boundary between the free hunting zone and the game reserve. Jorge explains that "both animals were mortally wounded and with no chance of survival" and they could not leave the animals to suffer. The two brothers went into the reserve and killed the wounded animals. Most of the meat was taken to the local village for distribution and the remainder was taken to their camp. "I had followed the rules of proper sportsmanship and the fact that the final chapter of the chase took place inside the reserve boundary never bothered me." This vignette of a single hunt sets the stage for much of Jorge’s text. There is, in fact, an attention to sportsmanship throughout the book and he frequently writes of the importance he felt of insuring that the meat from the elephant, rhino and other game that he killed was properly distributed to the nearby villages.

Jorge also explains that even with the liberal licenses enjoyed by the white hunters and the vast numbers of game, some hunters still killed game to excess. Jorge, however, didn’t have the stomach for the sort of killing of game that was modus operandi of some hunters. On page 90 Jorge writes about meat hunting cape buffalo in Mozambique. ". . . I had already shot what I considered a rather shameful number of buffalo. They were so plentiful, that in a short period I made a substantial profit. However, this indiscriminate slaughter was not sporting." What he seemed to be searching for was a personal balance between the business of hunting and the sport of hunting. He found that balance.

To Live a True Adventure

When he had finished with the meat hunting episode Jorge returned to what he truly loved—hunting elephant. Life for Jorge was good and he was living the life of adventure that he had dreamed of as a child. The elements of adventure that stand out in his personal history is not the number of elephants he killed or the tons of ivory he sold but the way that he lived his dream. When other, less courageous men, were staying closer to established camps Jorge was trekking deeper into the bush and setting fly camps on the spoor of the elephants he was tracking. When other hunters would turn back from the onslaught of the tsetse fly he pressed on. This does not mean he was stupid about his hunting—on more than one occasion he writes about turning back when the odds began to stack too heavily against him.

In my reading of travelogues and what I call adventurelogues one of the elements I always look for is how willing the author is to admit his failures as well as triumphs. I am not talking about the fashionable mea culpa nonsense that has become so common by today’s weak writers, but the honest-to-God-I-failed admission that make a remarkable story much more rewarding to read. That’s the mark, I believe, of the true adventure story and you don’t have to read very many of today’s "keyboard commando adventures" before you can smell the rat of chest-pounding bravado. Jorge does not pound his chest and he admits his failures, whether it is a poorly placed shot or not correctly reading the spoor and wind.

Sensing the Future

Given the time period he was in Africa it is a safe assumption that Jorge was well acquainted with the stirrings of a new political climate. When he began his remarkable adventure the smoke hadn’t completely cleared from World War Two’s battlefields and no one was expecting things in Africa to change, at least not until Africa was ready for change. Early in Chapter Twelve Jorge relates the story of his meeting with a Portuguese nurse in a remote village. The nurse was "a fine young man in his thirties with blue eyes and thick, black, well-trimmed moustache" (101). He had been drawn to the nurse by stories of the man’s abilities as an elephant hunter. Their conversation "centered on elephant hunting, lion and the future of African colonies. That subject appeared to be crucial to all residents of Africa, mainly to those who loved it, had family there and wished to remain. This preoccupation was subjugating the hopes of many white men living in different parts of Africa" (Ibid). Jorge writes that the end of the colonial era was expected and was, in fact, the dream of many, but no one expected it to end with the colossal upheavals that would rewrite borders and kills tens-of-thousands, if not millions of people. Sprinkled throughout his text Jorge hints at the gathering storm but unlike many authors of that period he does not allow the political problems and their ramifications into the hunting world to sidetrack his purpose, which in this text is the adventure he was living.

By the time a reader has reached the mid-point of Jorge’s book the question that begins to nag is if the adventure Jorge is living can be sustained for another hundred and fifty or so pages or, as is often case, will the book become a tiresome repetition of the stories that have already been told, i.e. same plots but different characters? There is a danger of this happening in this book because we are reading how Jorge saw and lived his life between 1948 and the end of the colonial era. He avoids the problem although there are some near misses because of the way that he has constructed the book—it is not a liner text, thus the danger of repeating a story is always present. In a liner text the author begins at point A and writes through the events to point Z. The letters between A and Z are the different stories the author wishes to relate and because the stories are liner, one following the other in chronological order, there is little danger of repeating the story. Jorge’s stories are based on a liner account of his Africa adventure but he does not follow the straight path—he meanders between highpoints and on occasion he writes about an incident in one story (chapter) and then repeats a part of that incident in another story. When writers are "weaving a tale" this is where they trip up themselves. One account does not match the next. (I’ve written more than one review of personal adventure stories where I’ve questioned the author’s veracity because events didn’t match.) In my reading of this book that problem never crops up and what is truly enjoyable about In The Company of Adventure is that when Jorge does refer back to something he always does so in a slightly different viewpoint so the reader is treated to a confirmation of the event previously told. Additionally, he takes an unusual risk of allowing his brother, Eduardo, to write a chapter about the same hunt that he, Jorge, had written about earlier. The effect is pleasing to the reader’s ear because it is as if two people are telling the same story with different viewpoints.

There is one other "standard" to which a personal adventure text can be applied and I call it "the Capstick effect" of the "adventurelogue." (See the sidebar for a more detailed explanation.) In this approach to a story the author builds a scene with successive powerful sentences then ends each paragraph with a strong, compelling statement that drives the scene onward. An example of how Jorge handles this approach to adventure writing is the story of a lion that he killed—dramatically.

What an unforgettable spectacle that magnificent beast was giving me, its mane fluttering against the wind and still uttering feeble but quite audible grunts. It seemed at that particular moment that he was grumbling about life, ignoring manifestations that were to be his death sentence. Busy with his moans, he did not suspect my approach. We were separated by less than 100 meters, and I was trying to leave my position from behind in order to make a detour to his left to aim at his shoulder. To close in was not my objective, because as it had happened on other hunts the negative consequences of too close an encounter were still fresh in my memory. The combination of my recent bout of malaria added to my eagerness and excitement left me once more, somehow unstable, breathing with difficulty, and unsteady hands. In order to regain emotional stability as quickly as possible, I had to keep a cool head and exercise control over my men, now excited to the extreme. The imminent danger, the possibility of an abrupt attack and the loss of a great opportunity to conquer a splendid prize are always present. Therefore, it is important for the hunter to control the situation, for these opportunities last only a few seconds. Success and failure go hand in hand. Bear in mind that in the majority of instances very favorable circumstances rarely repeat themselves. (267-8)

Tension, power, color, self-doubt blended with the author’s determination to see the episode through to the end are all present and with the last sentence there is no reader desire to stop reading but a need to continue reading, to learn what the outcome will be even though the reader already knows the author survived—but how? These are the powerful tools of good writing being put to work by a skilled writer. By the time a reader has finished with Jorge’s book there is a sense of exhaustion, of wonderment—just how in the hell did one man manage to live that adventure?

Galen L. Geer is a former United States Marine Drill Instructor and Vietnam veteran. A professional outdoor hunting, shooting and gun writer, he published 2000 magazine articles. He has been a contributing editor to Soldier of Fortune magazine for thirty years and is the author of seven books.

In The Company of Adventure is worth reading, worth keeping on the bookshelf and returning to on long nights when scudding clouds and forbidding weather move a person to keep the hearth logs burning while the dog sleeps nervously between the fire and his master.

And, whether the reader is dreaming of adventures to come or remembering adventures of the past, this is a book that prods the reader to think about their life, just as Poos’ fiftieth birthday prodded him to think of his past adventures, and mine, and then point out that we had many more to come.

 


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• On Target by Christian Le Noel •
• In the Company of Adventure •
• Tanzania Safari •
• Book Review: The Heller Case •
• Make a Plan •
• Game animals of the world •


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