No. 5: “No Mercy: A Journey to the Heart of the Congo” by Redmond O’Hanlon

Travel Blog  •  Michael Shapiro  •  05.27.06 | 7:41 PM ET

imageTo mark our five-year anniversary, we’re counting down the top 30 travel books of all time, adding a new title each day this month.
Published: 1997
Territory covered: Central Africa

Following in the literary footsteps of Joseph Conrad, Redmond O’Hanlon makes a downright dangerous (some might say foolhardy) journey into the heart of Africa. His chronicle of the adventure, No Mercy, is at times frightening,  and at other times laugh-out-loud funny. O’Hanlon’s quest is the legendary dinosaur of Lake TÚlÚ. Naturally, he takes the long way to the lake and nearly gets killed by a village headman who holds a longstanding grudge against his guide. Along the way, O’Hanlon tries to save an abandoned baby gorilla and battles his demons and the haunting spirits of Central Africa. One wonders if O’Hanlon will ever return from this long, dark night of the soul. In a sense, he doesn’t: the O’Hanlon who emerges from the central African jungle is not the same O’Hanlon who went in.

Outtake from No Mercy:

“I’ve been thinking,” said Lary…“Why bother to go way up through the northern forests when all you really want to do is check out Lake TÚlÚ?  Why not just go west.  Get it over with?”
“I don’t know,” I said, caught off-guard. “I just have this feeling, I have an idea that once we’ve moved through those villages, found the pygmies in the forest, seen gorillas and chimps and guenons and elephants, when we’ve caught a glimpse of how people think—we’ll know what’s in Lake TÚlÚ before we even get there.”

For more on Redmond O’Hanlon, see interviews with him on Salon, Wisconsin Public Radio, and in my book, A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk About Their Craft, Lives and Inspiration.