Terra Firma Triptych

J. M. Ledgard

J. M. Ledgard’s novel Submergence was an exceedingly popular choice in Work in Progress’s 2014 round-up of FSG staff favorites (and we were hardly alone in our adoration), so we’re understandably thrilled to announce that the next FSG Digital Original will be Terra Firma Triptych by the one and only Mr. J. M. Ledgard.

Beginning on foot in a desolate part of South Sudan, continuing on a rutted road outside the capital city of Rwanda, and ending with visions of flying robots in the African sky, Terra Firma Triptych is an eye-opening piece of non-fiction. It could sound far-fetched, but Ledgard—who, in addition to his work as a novelist, has covered East Africa for The Economist for over a decade and now serves as the director of Afrotech, “a future Africa initiative [whose] objective is to help pioneer advanced technologies in Africa at massive scale”—has the experience, the imagination, and the skills to be convincing and compelling.

Submergence earned a wide variety of enthusiastic descriptions—“strange, intelligent, and gorgeously written;”1 “an extraordinary fusion of science and lyricism;”2 “arrestingly original, inventive, expansive, vivid, and thought-provoking;”3 “a masterly evocation of the intricacies of life”4—almost all of which, we think, could equally apply to his Terra Firma Triptych. But the only way to test our convictions is, of course, to dive in yourself. We have a few words of it for you below, and you’ll be able to download the whole Terra Firma Triptych everywhere ebooks are sold on August 18, 2015.

If you and your e-reader get too antsy waiting, FSG Originals has published Digital Originals by an intriguing cast of inspired, eloquent visionaries: Warren Ellis on murder for hire, Aleksandar Hemon on soccer and art, Robin Sloan on the secret history of San Francisco, Elissa Schappell on birth stories. . . You should be ready for Ledgard on Africa, antelopes, and drones by the time August 18 rolls around.

1Kathryn Schulz, New York Magazine
2Alan Cheuse, NPR
3Philip Gourevitch
4Teju Cole

Read a short excerpt from Terra Firma Triptych.

I have this feeling of discordance which is like arriving at a terminal identical to the one I have just left, a papery nest, wherein there is too much of too little, too much narrowness, too many lights, or too many lights that illuminate the wrong things in the wrong way, and the effect on me is to feel trammeled and shoved away from the important living things. Perhaps you have the same feeling. Perhaps many people do.

Nature never feels like that to me. I think that is the reason why I wanted to walk far away and find a still point a still point in a wilderness that was free of any human thought. On a recent trip to South Sudan I had a chance to do just that. The shy and valorous head of the Wildlife Conservation Society in the country offered me several of his armed rangers to wander on foot across the Bandingilo National Park.

South Sudan is in all senses a rough country and Bandingilo exists more as a conception than as a fenced and bounded reality. It is about half a day’s drive north of Juba, the country’s ramshackle capital. Its western boundary, on the Nile, marks the start of a pastureland that extends to the Boma plateau in the east of the country. Bandingilo-Boma, call it Baboland, is five times the size of Switzerland. It has only a few cattle camps belonging to the Murle tribe. Occasionally, the Murle attack interlopers from the Dinka and Nuer tribes and steal their cattle and children. Occasionally, their enemies overrun them and slaughter their women and children. But this happens at the margins. The interior of Baboland is a fearful place for humankind, in which every standing figure becomes quickly incorporeal and close to perishing. In the dry season, from November to April, there is not enough water and too many deaths from thirst. In the rainy season, and especially in May and June, it turns to mud so deep and quick only a Saviour could hope to walk across it.

Terra Firma Triptych

J. M. Ledgard was born in the Shetland Islands. He is the author of the novels Submergence and Giraffe, is a longtime foreign correspondent for The Economist, and serves as the director of a future Africa initiative based at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.


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