Riding the Demon

On the Road in West Africa

Peter Chilson

Selected by James Galvin

Title Details

Pages: 224

Trim size: 5.500in x 8.500in



Pub Date: 03/15/2015

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4748-6

List Price: $22.95


Pub Date: 03/15/2015

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4834-6

List Price: $22.95

Riding the Demon

On the Road in West Africa

Peter Chilson

Selected by James Galvin

Extreme travel on the African Continent

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  • Description
  • Reviews

In Niger, where access to rail and air travel requires overcoming many obstacles, roads are the nation’s lifeline. For a year in the early 1990s, Peter Chilson traveled this desert country by automobile to experience West African road culture. He crisscrossed the same roads again and again with bush taxi driver Issoufou Garba in order to learn one driver's story inside and out. He hitchhiked, riding in cotton trucks, and traveled with other bush taxi drivers, truckers, road engineers, an anthropologist, Niger's only licensed woman commercial driver, and a customs officer.

The road in Africa, says Chilson, is more than a direction or a path to take. Once you've booked passage and taken your seat, the road becomes the center of your life. Hurtling along at eighty miles an hour in a bush taxi equipped with bald tires, no windows, and sometimes no doors, travelers realize that they've surrendered everything.

Chilson uses the road not to reinforce Africa's worn image of decay and corruption but to reveal how people endure political and economic chaos, poverty, and disease. The road has reflected the struggle for survival in Niger since the first automobile arrived there, and it remains a useful metaphor for the fight for stability and prosperity across Africa.

Bush taxi drivers have a sympathetic, if somewhat frazzled, advocate in Chilson. He documents the dreams and frustrations of these men (and a couple of women) and the battles waged by them and their Peugeot 504s against potholes, roadblocks, corruption, bad petrol, devils, and the lack of genuine spare parts.

—Times Literary Supplement

Chilson’s book, as vivid in places as a nightmare, has all the revelatory power of the early explorers’ narratives, with their shreds of myth and rumor snatched from the borders of terra incognita.

—New York Times Book Review

The raw cultural, political, and economic vitality of West Africa is sought by newcomer Chilson upon Niger's lawless, hair-raising, fickle, murderous—in a word insane—roads.

—Kirkus Reviews

An engaging and fascinating account . . . This well-written book is much more than a description of Chilson's trip, also explaining the history, culture, and personality of this part of Africa.

—Library Journal

In this vivid exploration of road culture in the West African nation of Niger, Chilson describes a crucial aspect of African culture in general: the bush taxi, or 'taxi brousse.' . . . There is an unrelenting quality to the excellent descriptive writing.

—Publishers Weekly

Chilson's literary chronicle of bush-taxi travel . . . goes beyond car and body parts to reveal life in a country speeding into modernity.

—Utne Reader

About the Author/Editor

PETER CHILSON teaches writing and literature at Washington State University. He is also the author of We Never Knew Exactly Where: Dispatches from the Lost Country of Mali and Disturbance-Loving Species: A Novella and Stories, winner of the Bakeless Fiction Prize and the Maria Thomas Fiction Prize. His writings, which have appeared in such publications as Foreign Policy, American Scholar, Gulf Coast, High Country News, Audubon, and Ascent, have also been included in two Best American Travel Writing anthologies.