Let's face it, Zombies on Kilimanjaro is a book title that sort of makes you want to find out what its about, doesn't it?
It certainly intrigued me sufficiently that I took a copy away with me over the New Year break. And although the book isn't actually about zombies - at least not the shuffling, brain-eating, George A Romero, undead kind of zombies - I did find it an excellent holiday read. So much so that it made me put "climb a mountain" on my list of New Year Resolutions.
The full title of the book is Zombies on Kilimanjaro: A Father/Son Journey Above the Clouds. It is a real-life story of a father and son climbing Africa's famous snow-capped peak and, although it is partly a description of a journey, and partly a father-son bonding tale, it is also a book about what it means to be human. In particular, it is about how memes affect human psychology.
Most people think of memes as things like pictures of humorous cats shared on the internet. On their trek up the treacherous slopes of Kilimanjaro, author Tim Ward explains to his adult son Josh that the real concept of memes is that they are ideas that have made humanity what it is today.
Tim says: "A meme is a special kind of idea. It’s an idea we can pass on to other people, things like information, skills, facts, gossip, scientific knowledge... Memes are bits of mental DNA that are passed from one mind to another. Genes form the building blocks of biological life. Memes are the building blocks of human culture."
The pair talk about memes quite a lot on their journey - when they aren't suffering too badly from cold, sleeplessness and altitude sickness, that is. They talk about the beneficial aspect of memes - that without them great technological advances might never have caught on - but also about how memes can turn people into something like zombies. Some ideological memes, such as the Fundamental Christian Creationist meme for example, can get in the way of people thinking rationally about scientific concepts like evolution. Tim and Josh go on to talk about ways of escaping the memes, hoping that climbing high above civilisation might somehow allow them to break free and be truly individual.
The journey turns out to be tougher than they anticipated. Struggling in low temperatures and high altitude, shambling along in the line of tourists on the same path to the peak, the zombie metaphor begins to feel more like a physical reality than a philosophical allegory.
Yet, facing the hardships together, father and son do have the kind of epiphany one expects to have after climbing a mountain. They reveal secrets from their pasts, learn to overcome old grievances and come to an understanding of each other that enables them to form a deeper friendship.
I found the book inspiring and, while I probably won't climb a mountain anywhere near as difficult as the one described in its pages, I very much enjoyed the shared Kilimanjaro meme.
Tim Ward has previously written books on spirituality, including What the Buddha Never Taught;Arousing the Goddess: Sex and Love in the Buddhist Ruins of Indiaand Savage Breast: A Man's Search for the Goddess.
Zombies on Kilimanjaro: A Father/Son Journey Above the Cloudsis published by Changemakers Books. It can also be bought in Kindle edition.