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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Mokokambo, the Lost Land
by Rene Guillot
Age Range: 9-11
Set in Paris in a house in Montmartre where Thiéry lives with his mother, father and older sister Michéle. He also shares his home with a variety of animals too: Frogs, birds, a lizard named Xavier, a hedgehog and a tortoise from Africa called Aglaia. According to his mum the house is like a zoo! To supplement their modest income the family rent out their spare room to Captain Capel who is a pilot, but he’s hardly ever there as he is always travelling.
Thiéry asks Captain Capel if he can make a small parachute for Aglaia so that the tortoise can be dropped in her country of origin when he next goes to Africa. A message is attached to Aglaia’s parachute and when Aglaia lands she is discovered by Côme, who sells animals to European circus’ and zoos. Armed with Aglaia’s French address he travels to Paris to return the pet to her original owner. Intrigued by Côme’s tales of adventures, Thiéry persuades his family to let him travel with him back to Africa.
Once there Thiéry makes friends with two other children, François Lina, and he soon becomes involved in rescuing M’Bali an elephant who has been sold by Côme, but hasn’t been paid for. As M’Bali guides the boys back to their village they explore the magical place of Mokokambo, (where no man has ever dwelt), and its mysterious and enigmatic inhabitants: the Mahos who have a strong connection with Aglaia, the tortoise.
French author Rene Guillot (1900-1969) lived in Senegal, West Africa, for many years where he worked as a teacher. As well as being a children’s author he was also a hunter so had first-hand experience of the country and its animals and people. Despite the fact that he was a hunter there is respect for the animals and the environment in this tale. He was a master of the adventure genre and Mokokambo, the Lost Land is absorbing, taking the reader to unexplored places and exciting exploits. There is a certain flavour of mysticism in the story and the description of animals and places are vivid and impressive. B. L. Driscoll’s full page charcoal-type drawn plates serve to enhance the appeal of the book, while John Marshall’s translation from the original French has been successfully accomplished.
Other Guillot titles on the website include: Elephant Road (1959), Nicolette and the Mill (1960), Balloon Journey (1964), Three Girls and a Secret (1964) and Tipiti, the Robin (1968).