Gorilla my dreams: A review of ‘Impenetrable Forest’ | Island Books by Beth Helstien

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“The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in Uganda,” by Thor Hanson, published by 1500 Books.

I’ve been reading Robert Fulghum’s “True Love,” a book of true love stories. Surprisingly, many of them are the stories of people who are in love with people they don’t know. I am one of those people this week.

I am in love with Thor Hanson, the author of “The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in Uganda.”

Thor Hanson can write! His prose is engaging, amusing and informative all at once. His book is a memoir of his two years as a Peace Corps volunteer working to habituate mountain gorillas to human visitors in order to expand tourism in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Park.

He knows his conservation biology, but this isn’t a scientific or political treatise. It is a reflection on his personal experience both with gorillas and with the people he met in Uganda. He writes with candor about his inner conflicts with policy, grief and numbness about the AIDS crisis in Africa and the ethnic violence in Rwanda.

Each chapter is headed by a quotation that beautifully frames what is about to come, most are taken from literature about Africa by early European explorers, although Jane Goodall and contemporary Ugandan poets and political leaders are represented as well. You’ll feel like you’ve been across the continent with Stanley and Burton — as well as Hanson — by the time you’ve finished. The short chapters provide the book with the kind of page-turner structure most memoirs rarely achieve.

The pool of books by San Juan archipelago authors is not a large pond. While there are some terrific writers among us, most of the world’s best literature is written elsewhere. This book is the exception.

Now don’t tell my husband, but this is a love letter from a fan — Bravo, Thor!

Thor Hanson will be talking about his book at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 4 at Griffin Bay Bookstore on Spring Street in Friday Harbor. (He has an adorable smile, too. If he can talk half as well as he writes, it should be a great event.)

“The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in Uganda,” like all books reviewed in this column, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

— Beth Helstien is the outreach coordinator for the San Juan Island Library. She may be reached most Wednesdays through Fridays at 378-2798 or at bhelstien@sjlib.org.

At A Glance
— What:
Thor Hanson will present a slideshow and discuss his book, “The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in Uganda.”
— When:Dec. 4, 5:30 p.m.
— Where:Griffin Bay Bookstore, Spring Street, Friday Harbor.

The event is free and open to the public.