notes on dutch literature

Darwin’s Dreampond

In Non-Fiction on December 4, 2012 at 1:49 PM

Darwins Dreampond
Darwin’s Dreampond by Tijs Goldschmidt is the story of a Dutch fish taxonomist who happened to be working in Tanzania when the colorful cichlids he was classifying were overfished to extinction. It stands head and shoulders above the predictable genre of eco-gloomies, and is in large part a work of literature. It originally appeared in Dutch in 1994 and was shortlisted for the major AKO Literature Prize and was awarded the prestigious Science Prize from the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research.

In 1981 Goldschmidt left for Tanzania in order to carry out research on cichlids, small percoid fish that form new species at an extraordinarily high rate and thus comprise one of the world’s most spectacular flocks of species. During his research the biologist was eye witness to a terrible destruction of fauna when an introduced army of Nile perch rapidly exterminated a large number of the hundreds of cichlid species. Goldschmidt ingeniously interweaves the story of the collapse of the ecosystem of Lake Victoria with a discussion of Darwin’s theory of evolution and his own experiences as a researcher amongst bureaucrats, missionaries and fishermen. The ecosystem collapses but the fishery booms and the lives of millions of Africans are drastically altered.

The biological story itself is fascinating, and Mr. Goldschmidt tells it well. But the genius of his book lies in the way he has combined the science with travel writing. He interleaves the two in a highly readable way, so that his Tanzanian experiences lighten the science.

Read the New York Times review of Darwin’s Dreampond.

During the London Book Fair 2012 Athenaeum Publishers have sold the World-English rights of a collection of over 20 essays by Tijs Goldschmidt. American publisher Seven Stories Press will publish the essays next year.

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