Where Antelope Roam
Reviewed by Rachel Woodworth
A book review ought to start, more than likely, with the book. But my review can’t begin there. It begins with the man. The man who wrote the book, who gathered days and moments, adventures and seasons, who recalled and reminisced and turned memories to words, to pages, to chapters, to book: a collection of short stories bound in Where Antelope Roam.
I cannot separate the book from the man; but then, I don’t need to. This is autobiography—what makes the book worth reading is the man who lives a life worth reading. I vouch for the value of both.
I begin, however, with the author. An author I first knew as a professor.
With an energy and eagerness (either endearing or embarrassing) of my college freshman self, I sat in his Cultural Anthropology classroom. Before the end of his two hour class, I remember clearly thinking, “I want to do what he does.” Now this, I’m coming to learn, has less to do with the specifics of doing—with mimicking job or education or, not to give too much away, the handling of horned vipers—but the being. And this is harder to articulate and harder to enact.
What I sensed in that classroom, and what I sense in the pages of this book, is this fullness of life. A character and a being, a posturing, that is wonderful—that is, really, full of wonder. It is this unwavering joy in life—a firm confidence in the value of here: this place, this person, this landscape and moment before me. It is this seeking and spotting of goodness that is wholly refreshing and inspiring. It is wise. In being lost, in carrying out difficult work in a sometimes difficult climate and context, in childhood and career and aging, in adventure and misadventure, there is a lightheartedness and there is always learning.
This is an incredible life and these are incredible stories about a person and a place, beloved. Africa, a continent so often stereotyped or skewed, is given life and image through Arensen’s stories: it is spectacularly beautiful and complex. Much like the people that we are, like the lives we live, and the countries and continents we inhabit. This is a life and a continent that cannot be painted with a broad stroke. And it isn’t. Arensen’s stories, instead, are threaded with themes of humour, culture, spirituality, sorrow, knowledge, and wisdom.
This anthology, these stories, provides snippets and snapshots of a patchwork life, colourful, pieces unique and wonderful, each with a pattern and shade of their own.
My sophomore self, with a slightly more subtle enthusiasm, did end up doing what he did (or at least one of the things he did—it was a start). I signed up for his study-abroad program, a program he founded and directed for many years, in Tanzania. And on our first full day, he shared with his cohort of students this Anglican catechism: “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This is something Arensen, and his book, embodies. And it is this I hope to do—and be.
This is a book you ought to read, and a man you ought to know.
Where Antelope Roam can be ordered from the Old Africa website www.oldafricamagazine.com or directly from amazon.com