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Woman in the Mists: The Story of Dian Fossey and the Mountain Gorillas of Africa by Farley Mowat (1988-11-01)

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    Farley Mowat(Author)

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  • Farley Mowat(Author)
  • Grand Central Publishing (1756)
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Review Text

  • By A customer on October 12, 2000

    Another engrossing and fascinating Mowat title, another Mowat "must read", "Woman in the Mists" is the sympathetic biography of a woman whose work gave us a window into the world of the mountain gorilla, a species to whose protection and conservation she was devoted. By alternating excerpts from her diary entries and personal letters with his own descriptive text, Mowat brings Dian Fossey, a powerfully willed and often abrasive woman, to life. Her youthful years, young adulthood, her fateful meeting with Louis Leakey, her romantic involvements and disappointments, her first contacts with the gorillas and the years of her work and struggle are portrayed with humanity and affection. The tale is enormously enriched by her own words. She struggled indomitably against self-serving African bureaucrats, indigenous herdsmen and hunter-gatherers, antagonistic forces that gained strength against her in the fields of primatology and philanthropy, and her own gradually deteriorating health largely the result of a powerful smoking addiction.But her work and her happiness were plagued by male academics and agents of philanthropic organizations who got caught up in a web of calumny and distrust motivated by primatologists who were seriously bent out of shape by her abrasiveness and who felt they could avenge themselves by vilifying her, possibly abetted by society's undercurrent of misogyny. Had there been no vilification, she may never have been killed, as her fatal enemy, probably an African, no doubt took strength from knowing how much she was hated by, for example, the American and European agents of the Mountain Gorilla Project. Mowat provides the reader a chilling view of Fossey's victimization, but never identifies the sexist element which seems apparent to this male reviewer.Fossey survived all the victimization because of her extraordinary strength and a powerfully motivating love for the gorillas and the entire eden-like natural world in which she lived. She had serious blind spots: her obliviousness to her abrasiveness, her hatred for the National Park's Tutsi herders and pygmy hunter-gatherers, even before the latter began killing her beloved gorillas (whole gorilla family groups, in order to capture a single infant for the zoo trade and skulls for the tourist souvenir trade), and her (and Mowat's) use of the racist epithet "wog" with impunity toward Africans who she hated, though she shared genuine bonds of love with the Africans who worked with her as trackers and poaching patrollers, and evidenced no other racist feeling. Mowat's record of Fossey's life is a powerful, shocking, revealing and loving account.

  • By Richard Natoli-Rombach on August 3, 2012

    I enjoyed Mr. Mowatt's account of Dian's life and times with mountain gorillas. I was a research assistant there in 1974 and though he never personally interviewed me his account of my time there was very accurate.When reviewing anyone's work and passion there are many facets to the story. The love, passion and dedication Dian had for the mountain gorillas was wonderfully illustrated. I had many encounters with her beloved Digit and Dian took several pictures of Digit and me sitting side by side. Most cannot even imagine the emotional devastation and impact this had on Dian. Dian knew the gorillas and they knew her as almost one of their own and this is very evident in Mr. Mowatt's writing.What I particularly liked was Mr. Mowatt's portrayal of Dian's perception of her life, work, colleagues, enemies, etc. It gave an insight into Dian's thoughts and feelings that even those who worked with her could only guess at. We get to see the world of Dian Fossey as viewed through the mind and eyes of Dian herself.To say Dian was a troubled person at times is an understatement. Mr. Mowatt did focus on some of this but the intent of his book is to portray her life's work with mountain gorillas and not delve into her many personal demons. There are other books and articles that address this.What I most appreciated is that even having personally known Dian I was able to get to know more of the whole Dian, the parts that came before and after I knew her. It gave me a better perspective on her life and made my memories even more memorable.

  • By Mary Whipple on January 23, 2005

    When it came to dealing with people, Dian Fossey was sometimes her own worst enemy, but her dedication to saving the African mountain gorilla and its habitat in Rwanda is indisputable. Describing himself as an "editorial collaborator," rather than as a biographer, Farley Mowat assembles Fossey's story from her never-before-printed journals and private papers, inserting them directly into the book in boldface so she can tell her own story. From her founding of the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda in 1967, until her murder there in December, 1985, Fossey battled to save "those she loved" from poaching, abduction, and dismemberment.Throughout her eighteen years at Karisoke, Fossey studied organized groups of gorillas to whom she became so familiar that they would even touch her. As fierce and protective of her own "turf" as a silverback, however, she refused to bend to the exigencies of the political climate and funding requirements and made innumerable enemies. When local herdsmen exerted their age-old rights to graze cattle on "her" mountain, Fossey shot the cattle. When poachers hurt her gorillas, she pursued them, even kidnapping the four-year-old son of one of them to force his surrender. When students at her own Center disagreed with her, she could be brutal.Fossey also fought local officials, park guards, and conservators who took bribes and staged events in order to protect their payoffs. She battled conservation organizations which wanted to get her funds, rival researchers who wanted to take over her project, and governmental officials who saw tourism in the park as a source of wealth and graft. Always fighting with ferocity, she made no effort to see another point of view or compromise. Her unsolved murder in 1985, by someone who knew the layout of her cabin, could have been by someone from any of these alienated groups.Mowat presents Fossey as a lonely warrior who never found personal peace, a woman who was instrumental in drawing pubic attention to the plight of the mountain gorilla but who was less sucessful than she had hoped. As he points out in his Epilogue, her cause has been continued by some of the researchers who studied with her. Two of those, Amy Vedder and Bill Weber, continue the story of the gorillas from the death of Fossey through 1993's disastrous Rwandan Civil War. Their book, In the Kingdom of Gorillas: Fragile Species in a Dangerous Land, reflects a more conciliatory viewpoint than that of Fossey. Mary Whipple

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