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1. To the Heart of the Nile: Lady

1. To the Heart of the Nile: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa
by Pat Shipman
Hardcover: 448 Pages (2004-02)
list price: US$25.95 -- used & new: US$5.00
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0060505559
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Book Description

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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Customer Reviews (10)

3-0 out of 5 stars Thrilling Tale, Flawed Book
This book notably advances understanding of the Bakers, wife/husband explorers extraordinaire.Most works focus on Samuel, treating Florence as an exotic appendage, but she was talented, fearless and an active agent in their adventures.The well-written text does justice to her inherently dramatic life, but problematic features lessen its credibility.First, there is much invented dialogue.While based on a sound grasp of primary sources and appreciation of Florence's character, such licence inevitably strays from the facts.Readers will wonder which parts are reliably documented and what is invention, but it makes for a stirring tale.More weighty is that Shipman is not an Africa specialist.This leads to numerous flaws, minor in themselves but cumulatively damaging.Many place and personal names have archaic spellings no longer used in their countries or by Africanists.Shipman routinely adopts the Bakers' negative views, repeating hoary insults about African laziness, theft, lying and dissipation. (The section on Florence's early life and Islamic education in the Ottoman Empire is more nuanced and sympathetic.) She also seems to endorse their Victorian ethnocentrism: "From his plantation days, Sam knew how to command large numbers of natives," p.62.Authors should hew closely to the sources, but also build on them without being constrained by their perspective.The Bakers achieved marvels of physical endurance in Africa, but disrupted many societies by using force to pursue their goals; the book elides this aspect of their 1870s military expedition to the Upper Nile.Cf. R. Collins's harsh but judicious chapter on Samuel Baker (R. Rotberg ed., "Africa & Its Explorers"), showing that the people Florence and Samuel met had their own valid concerns and goals.

4-0 out of 5 stars Out of impulse, out of adventure, or a sense of attraction Sam kidnaps Florence
The story of Florence Baker and Sam Baker was well known to me. In most histories of the discovery of the Nile these two are treated somewhat as a sideshow, an entertainment, not to rank with Richard Burton or John Hanning Speke. But how that view changes with Pat Shipman's worthy biography of this incredible couple. We meet Florence being orphaned and raised to be in a harem, not discovering she was a slave until the day she was to be sold and then an event happens that would make the three musketeer's proud. Sam Baker on holiday, hunting attends the slave auction and finds him self bidding on this 15 year old girl (half his age). He loses and she is condemned to life in an Ottoman harem as a slave. But then out of impulse, out of adventure, or a sense of attraction he kidnaps Florence and they begin one of the most marvelous romances and live their lives full of adventures. They choose to find the true source of the Nile resulting in a truly amazing story. My only complaint with the narrative is that I found the two Nile expeditions became a bit of a tedious read. I think this is because they dwell on many issues and events and don't seem to focus on the two's relationship; or maybe it is because the first 100 to 150 pages are so exciting and spellbinding that one is bound to be let down by just a trek though impossible terrain. The ending is marvelous proving that true stores can have an amazing arch and warmth. After Sam Baker's death Florence lives on to take interest in Sam's young grandnephew that grows up, learns Arabic, and is assigned to the Sudan Political Service. During this work he hears stories of the famous Sam and Florence. For those interested in jihads we even follow the events of the great Mahdi army's crushing defeat of the British and Gordon's death and loss of Khartoum. I recommend to anyone interested in adventure, the history of the Sudan, great romances and the Nile source discovery. And I must mention you must read Alan Moorehead's great books THE WHITE NILE and THE BLUE NILE that more fully tell the story of the discovery of the source of the Nile.

5-0 out of 5 stars The incredible determination of the early Explorer!
Based on journal entries, private papers, and newspaper articles of the day, Pat Shipman has provided us with a true story of love and bravery. When Sam and Florence Baker set out together to search for the source of the Nile, they encountered unbelievable conditions as they painfully made their way on camel back across the burning desert, and often on foot through the jungle to the heart of Africa. Knowing that they eventually became Lord and Lady Baker is a consolation, as you suffer with their trials, debilitating fevers and horrendous tribal wars.Here we have a story of enduring love amidst great hardship.A book worth reading from beginning to end as you watch Sam Baker rescue this beautiful Hungarian girl from a highly specialized slave auction for girls who had been prepared to grace anySultan's harem!This remarkable and beautiful young woman went on to save the life of her husband on more than one occasion.The charming black and white sketches and illustrations, plus two maps, add considerably to the value of the book.

4-0 out of 5 stars Not a novel, but a great story of love and adventure in Victorian times
This book is an hybrid, it's neither a novel nor a non-fiction. It's the attempt of a scientific mind to write a novel on a women explorer she is fascinated with. It sometimes happens that historical characters particullarly appeal to people who deal with something completely different. I think that is at the back of this interesting book. The author is not an historical novelist like Irving Stone, because the structure of the book is plain chronology and the dialogues between the characters sound accademic at best, if not false, but her fascination with Florence Baker gives at the end its fruits. Some stories are so good that however written remain an excellent read.
Women explorers are rare, and were more so in Victorian times. Florence Baker, an Hungarian girl, adopted in an harem to be later sold as a slave, rescued by the great explorer Samuel Baker lead an intense life accompaning her husband to the darkest part of Africa. The couple took part in the British exploration of the Nile together with Stanley, Grant, Burton and rule of the Sudan and the abolition of slavery with Gordon and others. During their years in England they were part of the best English society and got to know and influence the foreign politics of England. Their life was full of success and public recognition. And they loved each other, apparently from the first to the last day of their lives. Even if this is very romantic in this case it seams to be true and the author makes a point of letting us feel this love and mutual respect.
The book optimally contextualizes the african and egyptian situation in the period Florence and Sam stayed in Sudan, but better still immerges us in the English society once they got back. We get an excursus of the Baker family, which contributed with various great men to english foreign affairs, the prince of Wales, the Royal Geographic Society, the Mahdi and Charles Gordon another hero of those times. The excellent bibliography gives many further reading suggestions.

As a footnote, I would like to point out that Wikipedia reportsSamuel Baker and Florence is mentioned only as his wife. Femminism still has a long way to go!

I would like to thank the author for having written about this woman, because some stories cannot be forgotten!

3-0 out of 5 stars ...journey through a life
(I wish I could give this adventure 3.5 stars.)When one takes into account the life and times, the journey itself is more amazing than the writing. ... Read more

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