(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

This book is the only semifictional work of the late Homer W. Smith, at one time chairman of the New York University School of Medicine and a noted physiologist whose major scientific accomplishment was “The Kidney: Structure in Health and Disease.” KAMONGO, though cast in thin fictional form, is not a novel in any conventional sense, and its story is relatively simple. Its two characters are Joel, an American naturalist, and the Padre, an English clergyman who has been stationed at Tanganyika. They strike up an acquaintance aboard the steamer on which both are returning home, and Joel relates his experiences in catching Kamongo, the lungfish, at Lake Victoria to the priest. The lungfish is of interest to Joel because it represents an unsuccessful experiment with life in the Devonian Age four hundred million years before. However, the lungfish could not survive on land because he had not perfected legs to sustain himself out of water. Consequently, the creature was compelled to remain stuck away in prehistoric mud. Joel’s spirited account of the capture of Kamongo forms the first part of the book, the adventurous and by far the most satisfying part.

The remaining portion of the narrative consists of a debate between the two men. For Joel, the lungfish represents certain aspects of crowded conditions on earth, with the stronger elements constantly pushing out and even destroying the weaker. The lungfish could not maintain himself because he could not compete with more robust and vicious creatures. Also, Joel claims, the lungfish was a product of overspecialization, one too highly individualized to adjust. As for the evolutionary process of which the lungfish forms some link,...

(The entire section is 692 words.)