It has always been an ambition of mine to read a travel book about a place whilst I am in that place; travel and books are two of my favourite things, so it makes sense to combine the two and enrich my enjoyment of them both. I managed to achieve this on my trip to South Africa, when I read Stealing Water by Tim Ecott. Like many things, reading the book was something I planned to do before I left home, but it never happened. This turned out for the best, as it lead to me being able to absorb Ecott's affectionate descriptions of the buildings of Johannesburg whilst sitting in the South African bush with a panoramic view of the distant sprawling Jozi metropolis, the perfect travel literature experience.
Undoubtedly Johannesburg has changed since the days Ecott reminisces about; for one thing, the modern day Johannesburg seems to cover a vast area similar to London. The skyscrapers seem to centre around two areas, with a lesser horizon of other buildings linking the two. Secondly, from what I have heard, Johannesburg is much more dangerous now than in the past. En-route to the Lion Park on my first day, I was warned of the dangers of central Johannesburg, specifically the Nigerian drug rings which operate in the city centre.
The autobiographical Stealing Water serves as a memoir of Ecott's youth, split between Johannesburg and Northern Ireland. Both locations were undergoing periods of political divide at this time, although Apartheid is rarely mentioned in the book, excepting a couple of passing references to the black maids of white families and the racially segregated living areas.
Instead, the book offers a refreshingly honest account of life for the average immigrant family in Johannesburg. Whilst the drama level varies throughout the book, with some pages being quite slow, it is the detail of everyday mundanities which build up to provide a fascinating collective insight.
Not what you would describe a "unputdownable" (largely because that probably isn't a word), the pace is slow, but this serves to echo the African lifestyle. I stuck with it because of my current interest in all things South African, but sadly I don't think I would have done so otherwise, which is a shame because it turned out to be an insightful and rewarding read.