Following is a review of
A Forest in the Clouds: My Year Among the Mountain Gorillas in the Remote Enclave of Dian Fossey. by John Fowler, Pegasus Books, Ltd, NY. 2018
An animal loving undergraduate, John Fowler signed up for an adventure - to serve as a student researcher with the famous gorilla lady Dian Fossey in the wilds of the Virunga Volcanoes. He went off naively, but encountered a situation fraught with issues; most of which were caused by the erratic personality of Ms. Fossey. This memoir is a candid recitation of the year with the gorillas- and contains some marvelous reflections of interactions with great beasts - but more of the book focuses on the unpredictable actions and moods of Dian. By the time John arrived at Karisoke camp, Dian had spent over ten years in the field. Her physical health was poor and her mental balance questionable. Students like John posed no academic threat to Dian and she shamelessly intimidated and bossed them around. They rarely knew where they stood, but stoically went about the tasks laid upon them.
Readers will get an honest portrait of Dian Fossey. In reality she was much different from her glamorous public persona. As one quote from the book says “to not know her, is to love her.” Dian was a very troubled and difficult person as this memoir reveals, yet she still must be credited with bringing the endangered gorillas to the world’s attention and thus, by extension, setting into motion the extensive programs now in place to safeguard them. But Dian never embraced those programs and in fact fought against them.
The book is a bit of gossip, and is only a yearlong snapshot of Dian’s career, yet it does truly portray what was happening during that year. It must have taken much soul searching for John to write this book as it does certainly demolish at least part of Dian’s myth.