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Non-Fiction Review – Living With Cannibals

Living With Cannibals And Other Women’s Adventures
by Michele Slung


Review by Vicky T. (VickyJo)


I was shelving books in the library the other day when I ran across a small volume called “Living with Cannibals and Other Women’s Adventures” by Michele Slung.  Well, I have to confess “Living with Cannibals” really caught my eye.  I know all about the old saying ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ but sometimes it happens! 

Anyway, the cover had an old photograph of a very determined looking woman wearing a skirt and a pith helmet swathed in veils, standing on top of a mountain.  I thought, anybody who could climb a mountain dressed like that is worth reading about.  And I was right! 

“Living with Cannibals” profiles 16 women adventurers; it gives a brief biography of each woman and then details the wanderings and adventures of her life.  A few of the names are familiar, such as Amelia Earhart and Dian Fossey.  But most of the women’s names are unknown, in spite of their accomplishments.  For instance, can you name the first woman to reach the North Pole?  How about the first woman correspondent to report on World War I from the front lines?  Which woman has logged more hours orbiting the earth than any other woman on Earth?  Yeah…I didn’t know either.   

Not all the women profiled here did something “first”; some of them took risks or traveled to exotic places at a time when most women seldom left their front yards.  Ida Pfeiffer, in 1842 at the age of 45, wrote her will and set off on a trip around the world.  She saw Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Cairo.  She ended up taking two more voyages around the world, and wrote about her adventures in books titled “A Lady’s Voyage Around the World”, and  “A Lady’s Second Journey Around the World.”  She had no qualms about dressing in trousers or passing herself off as a man if need be, unlike Fanny Bullock Workman.  Fanny absolutely refused to wear anything other than her skirts–not even a divided skirt.  Fanny fell in love with the relatively new sport of climbing.  She pounded nails into the soles of her boots, and ended up breaking the woman’s altitude record by reaching 23, 300 feet on Nun Kun peak in what is now India in 1906.  (In fact, Fanny is the intrepid climber on the book’s cover.) 

Adventurous women were not only to be found in the 19th century.  We also learn about Helen Thayer, who with a single Husky serving as an alarm system for polar bears, skied by herself to the North Pole in 1988.  Dervla Murphy set out from her home in Ireland in 1963 and bicycled all the way to India, alone.  In 1989, Arlene Burns realized a childhood dream by kayaking 100 miles down Tibet’s Brahmaputra River.  She then returned to land, made her way alone back to Katmandu and on to Bangkok where she swapped her kayak for a mountain bike.  She then cycled from Bangkok down the Malay Peninsula to Singapore. 

The book ends by introducing Sylvia Earle, a marine biologist who reached a record depth in 1979 of 1, 250 feet diving in a Jim suit.  She has spent hours exploring the ocean, our last frontier.  Sylvia says, “People are under the impression that the planet is fully explored, that we’ve been to all the forests and climbed all the mountains.  But in fact many of the forests have yet to be seen for the first time.  They just happen to be under water.  We’re still explorers.  Perhaps the greatest era is just beginning.” 

The wonderful thing is that just about every woman profiled in this volume wrote about her adventures; a very complete bibliography of titles is listed at the back of the book.  I have lots of new titles to search out now! 







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