At the dawn of human culture, 43,000 years before the birth of Christ, the Kariba live in a region of East Africa that was once teeming with game, lush forests, and water, that is now an arid wasteland. Temfe, the 17-year-old son of Beru, chief of the Kariba, is a cripple, his foot mangled by the buffalo that killed his brother. Betrothed to Yamba, he must contend with Kofu, the tribe’s chief hunter and warrior, who not only wants to be chief, but wants Yamba.
The Dry Lands by Simon J. Townley is the story of Temfe’s effort to find new lands for his tribe. He must find a place for them to go or watch his people die. His only ally is his friend Ngoh, a young man of the same age. When Beru sends the hunters out to find new lands, he places Temfe in command, but along with having to cope with his handicap and the deadly, unfamiliar desert, he has to deal with Kofu’s treachery.
Not since Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear has there been a novel set in prehistoric times that does such a good job of bringing this era to life. Townley’s straight forward prose and rich descriptions of the land, wildlife, and the people put the reader smack in the middle of action that resonates with anyone who loves history. This might seem a contradiction in terms, considering the story is about what we modern people call ‘pre-history,’ but a close reading will reveal parallels with life as we know it today. What the author shows us is that human emotions haven’t evolved all that much in the millennia since man arose in East Africa.
Temfe is the prototype of every modern hero or explorer – the men and women who have struck out into the unknown to expand the range of human understanding. The action is well framed, the dialogue realistic, and the settings colorful. This might be fiction, but it’s a good history lesson as well.
Highly recommended reading for all ages.