Alan E. Sparks’ Into the Carpathians is the third of an ambitious three-book series about tracking wolves (and bears and lynx) from Romania to Germany. Following Dreaming of Wolves and Into the Carpathians Part 1, it recounts the author’s continued conservation work as a core member of a team led by German conservationist Peter Sürth, who trekked the natural corridor formed by the Carpathian and Sudeten mountains from Romania to Germany.
Part 2 recounts the last two months of a four-month trek, from Ukraine to eastern Germany, offering a mix of history, nature, archaeology, ethnography, and folklore woven with a journal-style travelogue. Half the book is Sparks’ narrative; the remaining half contains 12 appendices on Central European history, interesting footnotes, and a thorough bibliography.
Sparks offers complex observations of Carpathian life, past and present, and skillfully captures camp life: portraying team members and interesting eco-volunteers who come and go. Among the most compelling human details are Sparks’ interactions with villagers, his immersion into the wild on solo hikes, and his evolving friendship with team member Jürgen Sauer. Especially interesting is Jürgen’s pining for his ex-wife, adding an appealing emotional layer to the narrative.
His details of nature often take readers there: One feels the rain pounding the tent, the fairytale-evoking mood of an ancient forest. The writing is a pleasure to read, even the packed, long sentences dense with historical or ethnographic information.
Given this skill, it’s disappointing that more visceral details of the human landscapes—towns, markets, villages—aren’t included. Most of all, while Sparks reveals a beautiful friendship evolving with Jürgen, he offers little of his own inner emotional life: How did he get where he is? Why is he so passionate about this part of the world? How did this journey change him? These questions are never answered.
Nonetheless, those who love trekking, outdoor adventure narratives, and Central European history, will enjoy learning about this little-covered geography in travel and nature literature.
Also available as an ebook.