Brian Watson ( 2019, 321 pages)
Reviewed by Ken Bailey


Brian Watson’s Wato is purely and simply an enjoyable read. I suspect that’s in part because he’s one of us. Like many of us he took a fancy to guns, shooting and hunting as a child, and he grew up in Australia reading about hunting in Africa and dreaming that one day he, too, could make the pilgrimage. He’s been a working man his whole adult life and had to save his shekels to make those dreams a reality—again, just like most of us.


Throughout the book, Wato, as he’s affectionately called by his friends and associates, demonstrates remarkable recall of his many safaris to Africa, in addition to a handful of hunts in other parts of the world. Each chapter describes an individual safari experience or a specific animal he has hunted. Over time he’s taken most of the key species in southern Africa, including the big five, though elephant hunting is clearly his passion and is the subject of several of the chapters. He’s also a bit of a gun nut, and if you enjoy reading about firearms, Wato won’t leave you disappointed. He even serves up a little meat for the wingshooting and angling fraternities.


What I really found compelling is that Watson has landed on just the right amount of detail in describing his various adventures. That’s a fine line to walk—too much detail and a reader gets bored before the climactic scene; too little and the stage isn’t set properly, we can’t imagine we’re walking side by side with him. Wato tiptoes along that line perfectly.


Watson is clearly a naturalist and conservationist at heart, and his appreciation for wild places and the flora and fauna they support, shines through; it’s evident throughout the book that it’s all about the experience for Watson, he’s not stepping off the plane with a tape measure in hand.


For those seeking a little eye candy, Wato is illustrated with 15 pages of colour photographs showing many of the people, places and hunts he describes in his stories.


If I have one beef with Wato, it’s that there’s too much passive, rather than active, voice. I find that a little distracting and cumbersome, although it’s not all that unusual in self-published books; a thorough editing would have cleaned that up.


Notwithstanding that little nitpick, I encourage everyone who appreciates contemporary African literature to pick up this book. It’s all very relatable and would be a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend those long air hours on the way to your next safari.