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Five Weeks in a Balloon (Anglais)
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I understand that this is a satire of the African explores and their constant oneupmanship. I've read some of those journals and appreciated Verne's idea of sailing his men far over Livingstone, Burton, and Speke' expeditions in a balloon.
The protagonists' attitudes and references to the Africans seem horribly pejorative to the modern reader (especially one living in Africa), but Verne stoops no lower than the common views of 1863.
The best commendation I can give about this is that it made me want to build my own hydrogen balloon and try to recreate this journey. Some of his scenes were a bit contrived (how did the wind move the balloon in just the right direction to save Joe?) But others were believable enough that it made me wonder what lengths Verne went to in his research.
Definitely worth reading for fun.
Verne has often been called the first science-fiction writer. Perhaps that description is actually quite appropriate, because much of Verne's 'science' is pretty much 'fiction'. That is certainly the case in FWIAB, which was written at a time when the average reading public's knowledge both of the interior of Africa and of ballooning were sketchy at best. There was a reason why people used to refer to interior of Africa as 'Darkest Africa' or 'The Dark Continent', and it had nothing to do with 'race'. Up until the mid 1800s few outsiders had ever been farther inland than a few miles from the coast, so that most of the continent was still a blank space on the map. At the time when Verne wrote FWIAB the newspapers were becoming filled with stories of dauntless explorers penetrating the mysteries of the 'Dark Continent', so it was a natural subject for a fantasist such as Verne. However, at the time the book was written most of the interior of the continent was still unknown, so don't expect to use FWIAB as a source for geographical accuracy. For example, Verne describes a region of arid, water-less desert a position where the Congo River actually is, not that anybody would have known the difference at the time.
Since ballooning was an equally new and exiting activity, it was a natural choice to combine the two. Needless to say, Jules Verne's grasp of ballooning was about as vague as his knowledge of the interior of Africa. Even a rudimentary knowledge of aerostatic theory reveals that the amount of lift generated by the amount of hydrogen in the balloon in FWIAB would have fallen short by about half a ton. In other words, Verne's 'Victoria' would undoubtedly have turned out to have been the original 'Lead Zeppelin'.
Technicalities notwithstanding, what the reader will find here is a charming 'flight of fancy' to strange places with three dauntless, 19th-Century British explorers. Don't look for 21st-Century sensibilities or Dostoyevskian themes and character development, because you won't ever find those things in any of the works of Jules Verne. In other words, so long as the reader doesn't expect too much, just a pleasant story about a fantastic adventure, then the reader won't be disappointed.
As intelligent and accurate as Verne is with his science, he obviously has no idea about hunting, dressing, butchering, and cooking wild animals. Very laughable. Also amusing is the oh-so-cordial way that Verne's characters treat each other. A much more polite time perhaps. Or maybe only in Verne's imagination?
I much prefered his 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to this book. 20K earns five stars to FWiaB 's three stars
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