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To the Heart of the Nile: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa    by Pat Shipman order for
To the Heart of the Nile
by Pat Shipman
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Barbara Maria Szasz (the future Florence Barbara Maria Szasz Baker) was born in Transylvania in 1845. At four years old, having endured the traumas of revolution, Barbara was taken into training in a harem in the Ottoman Empire. A normal life wasn't to be for little Barbara. Renamed Florenz, she was destined to be sold in the slave market to be the toy of a rich man. Then Samuel Baker entered her life and she never looked back.

To the Heart of the Nile is an exciting account of the life and times of Lady Florence Baker. Florence and Sam spent over nine years in Africa. The story of these years reads like an adventure novel, with invincible main characters who pursue their goals and dreams with determination and an enviable love for each other. Florence Baker was an astounding woman who not only followed her man; she was his partner in everything. They shared the fevers and warring attacks that Africa threw at them, as well as the beauty of the country and a love of the African peoples.

Had Florence lived today, she might well have been the CEO of a large conglomerate or possibly the first woman president of the United States. She recognized no boundaries in her life only difficulties that she knew she could overcome. How easy it is to imagine plowing through mud up to the waist (as Sam and Florence did) when reading Pat Shipman's well-chosen words. Florence was as much at ease on the African veldt as she was in the drawing room of the Baker home in England.

Her story, To the Heart of the Nile, brings history to your fingertips. More than an interesting woman, Florence becomes a real person the reader can admire and wish to emulate. I'm sorry I never knew her.

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