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Lessons in African Culture: The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in Uganda 

Author and narrator Thor Hanson details his Peace Corps experience from beginning to end in his new book, The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in

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Author and narrator Thor Hanson details his Peace Corps experience from beginning to end in his new book, The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in Uganda. The story begins with a host family's home in Kajansi - a small town in Uganda where Hanson trained for his impending Peace Corps duties. During his brief stay, Hanson drinks with the locals, experiences cultural milestones (crowning of a Bagandan kabaka - the first royalty ordained in almost 30 years), and bears witness to Ugandan violence as well as the first of many deaths brought on by the AIDS virus. And while he discovers that impatience might perhaps be a Western phenomenon, he is ever ready to make his way to Bwindi and the Impenetrable Forest.

Soon after his arrival in Bwindi, Thor begins the task of habituating gorillas - his first face-to-face experience with the herbivores. By tracking the animals throughout the surrounding forests, Hanson comes to identify "fresh" nests created by these gigantic, stoic creatures. Sketching their noses, he's able to easily identify and commit all local gorillas to memory. Hiking miles to spot primates ripping away the inner fibers of banana trees for feeding (hence their reputation as fruit lovers) becomes a daily routine. And while the village is remote, many tourists seem to find their way to gorilla country. It becomes Hanson's job to lead them into the depths of the Impenetrable Forest. Descriptions of gorillas passing gas offending the so-called "adventurous" tourists are priceless as he captures the humor in the most honest circumstances.

Impenetrable Forest is a story that offers revealing details of Hanson's gorilla-tracking days in Uganda. Marred by run-ins with Empazi (fire ants), gorilla smugglers and AIDS, his tales are raw and riveting - written as if the reader were tracking gorillas along side him in the forest. And while the title promises a book devoted to gorilla stories, the personal relationships Thor (Tour - as the villagers call him) developed during his stay all but blur the line between gorillas and villagers. He is passionate about keeping gorillas moving freely throughout the forest, as well as the villagers healthy.

And while his description might be impeccable, the flow of the book is not. A slow beginning leaves readers wondering if he'll ever leave Kajansi and encounter the sought after primates. Each chapter ends rather anti-climactically, leaving readers yearning for more emphasis on the truly unique stories that Hanson tucks quietly into the tale of his three-year adventure. But if the reader can make it through the entire book, a captivating ending awaits - one full of love, loss and friendship. Because even though Uganda has been afflicted by terror, violence and sickness, Thor Hanson's story brings a touch of light and laughter into an extremely conflicted part of the world. -Amy A. Clark


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