To the Heart of the Nile: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa

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9780060505554: To the Heart of the Nile: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa

Prepare to embark upon a breathtaking adventure, brimming with hair-raising rescues, impossible quests, danger, discovery, catastrophe, mutiny, and uncompromising love -- all the more remarkable because every word is true. Acclaimed New York Times and Los Angeles Times Notable author Pat Shipman now brings to vivid life the times and great achievements of a singular explorer, a woman of unparalleled courage and spirit who helped redefine her world.

Florence Szász was a child in Eastern Europe when she witnessed the slaughter of her family during the Hungarian revolution. After the war, she was kidnapped from a refugee camp in the Ottoman Empire and sold to be raised for the harem. In 1859, at age fourteen, she stood before a room full of men and waited to be auctioned to the highest bidder. But slavery and submission were not to be her destiny; one of the assembled was moved by compassion and an immediate, overpowering empathy for the helpless young woman. His name was Sam Baker, a wealthy English gentleman and eminent adventurer who braved extraordinary perils to aid her escape. Ultimately they would wed and venture together into some of the most inaccessible regions on Earth.

At this tender age, Florence Baker had already seen and experienced more than most women of the Victorian era. But the greatest adventures were still before her. By the side of the man who had set her free -- and whose love would remain passionate and constant for the remainder of their lives -- she forged ahead into literally uncharted territory. Together, they confronted disease, starvation, and hostile tribesman, surviving the cruel ravages of beasts and nature in a glorious attempt to unravel a mysterious and magnificent enigma called Africa. They returned to England to enjoy the accolades of a society that, if Florence's past became known, would condemn her as a prostitute.

Adorned with striking photographs, maps, and illustrations, Pat Shipman's To the Heart of the Nile is an extraordinary achievement -- an unforgettable portrait of an unforgettable woman; a story of discovery, bravery, determination, and love, meticulously reconstructed through journals, documents, and private papers, and told in the inimitable narrative style that has already won this author resounding international acclaim.

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About the Author:

Pat Shipman is the author of eight previous books, including The Man Who Found the Missing Link and Taking Wing, which won the Phi Beta Kappa Prize for science and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and named a New York Times Notable Book for 1998. Her numerous awards and honors include the 1996 Rhone-Poulenc Prize for The Wisdom of the Bones (written with Alan Walker). Her most recent book is To the Heart of the Nile: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa. She is currently an adjunct professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University and lives in State College, Pennsylvania.

From Publishers Weekly:

Shipman (The Man Who Found the Missing Link, etc.) recounts the courageous, adventurous life of Lady Florence Baker (18451916). Born in Transylvania and orphaned after the Hungarian revolution in 18481849, "Barbara" was taken to an Ottoman harem where her name was changed to "Florenz," and she lived "like an innocent flower blossoming in the sun." When she reached puberty, however, she was sold at slave auction to the pasha of Viddin in the Balkans and later abducted by the second-highest bidder, a wealthy middle-aged English adventurer named Samuel Baker, who renamed her "Florence." Independent, cultured and beautiful, Sam's 15-year-old acquisition possessed a fiery spirit and worldly curiosity that rivaled his own. So, in 1861, the unlikely couple set out for Africa to search for two English explorers who were on a quest to discover the Nile's source and to continue their soulful romance, free of the scrutiny Florence attracted for her "extreme youth and somewhat shadowy past." During their four years in Africa, the Bakers dealt with life-threatening illness, deception by tribal chiefs and mutiny-and witnessed some truly horrifying acts of human cruelty and degradation. But despite the hardships, including a return trip to attempt to dismantle the African slave trade, their love was unshaken. Combining journals, letters and photographs, Shipman's account shines with historical clarity and narrative fluency, although at times the invented dialogue between the couple rings a saccharine note. Overall, this portrait of bravery, altruism and stamina in the wilds of uncharted Africa is a reverent and careful tribute. 66 b&w illus.
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