On Tana River by David Livingstone

Just finished reading this book, written by my father in the early 1960s. If you are interested in a vivid description of the early work of missionaries in this remote area of Kenya (on the Tana River), then this book will be of interest.

My father, who died recently, was commissioned to write this book by the Methodist Missionary society.


What I liked:

The book really consists of a series of self contained anecdotes or episodes. This which led me to think this would be really suited for publication as a web blog – if such a thing had existed in the 1960s!

My father brings each anecdote to life, often beginning by writing in the present tense. I love the way he paints pictures with words and he chooses words with care – neither too complicated, nor too simple.

He refers back to historic events, neatly citing the sources of his information, elegantly and without interrupting the flow of the narrative.

Most importantly, he writes about the Africans with affection and respect. His enthusiasm for his ministry is very evident.


What I didn’t like:

The book reads as a series of articles (indeed, this is how it was commissioned) and, athough there are linking themes, there is little sense of progression or development.

The stories, often beginning in the present tense with a lively, active voice, tend to end with passages written in the past tense and with a passive voice. I believe my father used this technique deliberately in order to deliver a generalised, evangelical message at the end of each section of the book. This is, of course, a typical preaching technique. But, as someone more interested in the stories than in the theological content of the mission work, I found this deadened the impact of some anecdotes.

I would, of course, have been very interested in how the conditions affected my father, personally. And how did my mother cope with life on the mission station and with three young children – myself and my two brothers? None of this is touched on. My father mentions my mother once, in passing and we don’t feature – except one line with the fact that the youngest of us nearly died from diarrhoea!


On Tana River (A Story of Kenya's Tana Church)

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