Book Review: No Picnic on Mt. Kenya

 Relevant reading as a response to my Africa trip (including hike around Mt. Kenya). This book was originally published in Italian in, I think, 1947, and soon after translated into English. It has been reissued many times.



Title: No Picnic on Mount Kenya: The Story of Three P.o.W.s' Escape to Adventure

Author: Felice Benuzzi. I can't find info about the translation.

Publication Info: See note above. My Kindle edition was put out by Quercus in 2017, and has an unknown number of pages, though the paperback appears to have 320.

Source: Library

Publisher's Blurb (from Overdrive web site):
In the shadow of Mount Kenya, surrounded by the forests and creatures of the savannah, life drags interminably for the inmates of POW Camp 354, captured in Africa during World War II. Confined to an endless cycle of boredom and frustration, one prisoner realizes he can bear it no longer.

When the clouds covering Mount Kenya part one morning to reveal its towering peaks for the first time, Felice Benuzzi is transfixed. The tedium of camp life is broken by the beginnings of a sudden idea—an outrageous, dangerous, brilliant idea.

Not many people would break out of a POW camp and trek for days across perilous terrain before climbing the north face of Mount Kenya with improvised equipment, meager rations, and a picture of the mountain on a tin of beef as their most accurate guide. Fewer still would break back into the camp on their return.

This is the remarkable story of three such men—a powerful testament to the human spirit of rebellion and adventure—reissued in a deluxe edition featuring Benuzzi's own watercolor paintings of the expedition and a final chapter that has never before appeared in English. 

My Review:
Naturally, I only read this because of my trip to Africa, tipped off by my brother-in-law who credited the book with his desire to hike Mt. Kenya. Not only did we have a great trip, but I really liked the book, which is both a humorous tale of events that at times were not fun or funny at all, but a great outdoor adventure tale AND fills in a bit of history I didn't know about (the Brits rounding up all the Italians in East Africa, for example).

Benuzzi's account of fighting their way through the brush and up the creek, often taking hours to cover short distances because of the rough going, certainly made me appreciate the trails we were able to follow, which though at times steep and rough nonetheless made for much easier going. I could also appreciate that we were able to drive to a starting point over 9000', cutting out the steamy lowland forests they hiked though. (It didn't hurt to have a staff carrying food and cooking our meals, either--something Benuzzi himself noted that most climbers had, and for good reason). 

The details about both the climb and the construction of their gear from oddments around the POW camp were fascinating, and I enjoyed tracing their route on the map, and realizing we had sat at the same pass and contemplated the summit, though without any intention of climbing Batian. 

All mountain climbers are crazy. These guys were extra crazy, but they had good reason to be so. Their need to have a goal, some kind of project to combat the tedium of imprisonment is pretty illuminating. They were willing to risk their lives to go climb the mountain--and return to prison after.

My Recommendation:
It's a pretty quick and entertaining read, even if you haven't visited the mountain. If you have, or plan to, it's a must! Do get the paperback, or read on a color tablet, as the author includes his own rather cool watercolor images of the mountain and the trip--even in the midst of that hardship, he managed to paint, and was clearly a talented artist as well as climber.

FTC Disclosure: I checked No Picnic On Mount Kenya out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2024
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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