This thin volume is really a PR campaign for CARE
, not that there's anything wrong
with that. Bryson also brings his signature humor into certain places in the book, not that there's anything wrong with that, either. It's tough to critique a book that supports a worthy organization like CARE, but I do feel like this book wasn't terribly successful either in highlighting CARE's work and task in Africa, or as a humorous Bryson travelogue.
When Bryson was leading his readers around Kenya, showing us unfathomable poverty and how CARE was trying to step in and help improve nearly hopeless situations, the book had so much potential to be moving and educational. The problem is, Bryson piqued our interest, but didn't carry the story forward really much past, "this is so-and-so. She's absolutely dirt poor, and her life was terrible. CARE came in, made it possible for her to get a business loan/water/better farming skills, and now she's still wretchedly poor, but at least now she has a teensy hope. Then I went back to the hotel, and drank a lot of alcohol." There is just no depth to the way that Bryson presents the stories of the individuals he meets.
The volume does have humorous moments, but they're sparse, and don't really serve the book all that well. The humorous situations highlight that Bryson would pretty much rather be just about anywhere but Africa. He's terrified much of the time, worried about his safety, and often times running to the hotel bar to have a comfort drink or two.
It's not that the book is bad--I just don't know if it presents the poverty in Africa and the impact that CARE is attempting to make any better than those 1 or 2 minute long aid organization television commercials do. I feel like Bryson had a fabulous opportunity to really open his readers' eyes to the situation in Africa and to how aid agencies really do try to help, and he squandered it. I'd love to see this volume expanded, to see Bryson really
do what he does well, and truly
educate me while entertaining me. This wasn't his best effort, and I felt like his heart wasn't really in it.