The Gardens of Mars: Madagascar, an Island Story by John Gimlette - review by Hilary Bradt

Hilary Bradt

No Country for Old Men

The Gardens of Mars: Madagascar, an Island Story


Apollo 464pp £30

The authors of travel books can be divided into two types: travellers who write and writers who travel. The former create an adventure, a quest, with themselves as the hero. The latter, on the other hand, could write on any subject but choose travel to demonstrate their talents. John Gimlette is such a writer.

For his latest book he has selected Madagascar, a chip off the old block of Africa but sharing little of its culture or creatures: a huge island shaped like a footprint in the Indian Ocean, a thousand miles long but embracing wide expanses of nothingness. ‘Every year’, Gimlette explains, ‘rains of biblical ferocity visit much of the land, and for five months they rinse it of roads.’ The remoteness and sheer otherness of Madagascar have attracted to the island more than its share of writers eager to have an adventure or describe and explain its charismatic wildlife, around 90 per cent of which is found nowhere else. Few writers have delved into its history and none as thoroughly and mercilessly as Gimlette.

This handsome volume has colour illustrations and monochrome drawings incorporated into the text, with photos of present-day Madagascar, as well as some historical plates. The travel element of this book is mainly a framework for the deeper purpose of exploring Madagascar’s turbulent past. Gimlette gives a linear account of the

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