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{epub pdf} The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African ChildhoodAuthor Elspeth Huxley – Blockdiagramwiring.co

When we were kids we played in a field down the street from our house If memory serves correctly always a joke when it comes to my memory the space was almost entirely undeveloped, so there was ample space for us to run and play We rode our bikes down there, we chased butterflies, we caught bugs for science projects I won t speak for my brothers or the friends I played with, but I also spent time down there letting my imagination go absolutely effing wild.Reading Elspeth Huxley s memoirs of growing up in Kenya reminded me of the land at the bottom of Main Street We certainly had no lions or giant pythons in that field, but I encountered plenty of them in my imagination The field was our African wilderness, or anything else we wanted it to be.Elspeth s family moved to British East Africa when she was a little girl The land was almost entirely unsettled when they arrived, and she talks about colonialism from the viewpoint of a child Certainly she wasn t involved in the serious, adult subject matters, but she wasn t entirely blind to what was going on around her either She picked up on quite a bit, the smart little whippersnapper that she was.But she primarily concerned herself with the other aspects of living in Africa She lived in fear that the wild animals would eat her pet She wrote about being stuck in a rainstorm that made her wonder if the Kikuyu tribe was right in believing that storms were the product of an angry god.Not unlike Isak Dinesen s Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass, the best part of this memoir are Elspeth s detail about the land on which she lived I ve never been particularly drawn to Africa I really don t like the heat , but this girl makes me want to go, even though I know Kenya of today would be nothing like the Kenya she knew and experienced.Aside from Dinesen, I also thought of Miles Franklin s My Brilliant Career My Career Goes Bung, though Franklin s story not a memoir takes place in Australia instead of Africa yeah welcome to my head, this is how I make connections.A great read, and I have her second memoir The Mottled Lizard to read when I m ready, which excites me cause I m a dork like that Elspeth s family left Kenya during the war, and I m curious to see what her life was like after the war when she returned to Africa.For myself, I have no desire to return to the bottom of Main Street to see what that field is like now Certainly there s a Wal Greens or a Wal Mart or fifteen gas stations in place of the hills and tress and grass that I remember I would like to preserve that memory Sometimes it s just not worth going back. Read this several times over the years and also watched the BBC series which I just love Never got around to reviewing the book, but recently my sister handed me her copy of the sequel, The Mottled Lizard, so I figured it was about time Elspeth Huxley just knows how to write It is the beginning of the end of British cultivation of the African frontier It is the clash of cultures, religions, sexes, ages, and times just before the outbreak of WWI Everything has come together but there is a sense that it is all falling apart Huxley writes with wisdom, wistful humor, deep irony and nostalgia which belies the perspective of the child narrator True it is the grown Elspeth who is relating the story, but she is convincingly young and yet at the same time infinitely older than the adults around her.A great adventure story, all the so for being based on the author s life Some reviewers here on GRs have taken issue with Huxley and the liberty she has taken with characters and conjectured dialogues If you are looking for a just the facts biography, it isn t And yet it is a story which doesn t grow old I can see reading it again It is one of those books you HATE to see it end But don t worry, the sequel has started off GREAT In 1913, when the author was six years old, she and her mother and father went to British East Africa B.E.A to start a coffee plantation This was nearly 100 years ago, when that area was mostly unsettled Her father bought some property, sight unseen, in the middle of nowhere among the Kikuyu people This book was especially fascinating for me because everything was so incredibly different from modern times The story is very simply told from her very early memories, although I suspect she must have consulted some diaries or letters her parents kept The book only covers about a two year period, because World War I intervened and people went back to Europe to wait it out I did not want this story to end As I got to the last few pages, I found myself longing for a sequel, and I was happy to discover that she did write one, The Mottled Lizard. I seem to be one of the few readers who didn t love this tale of a young British family trying to start a coffee plantation in British East Africa Kenya in the period 1912 1914, their friendships with the other British colonials, and their interactions with the Kikuyu and Masai people who lived nearby, or worked for them Actually, it completely bored me.There was also something mildly unsettling about the narrator s voice she s writing the memoir as an adult, about 50 years after the events she s narrating, which took place when she was a young girl, from ages six to eight There is a sweetness and innocence in the narration, but also a very un childlike sophistication about the romantic goings on of adults In other words, there is no way at age six or eight she would have grasped the subtle sexual tensions between Lettice Palmer and Ian Crawfurd, or comprehended the coded language used by the memoir s characters to discuss the romantic possibilities between these two There are also long conversations which obviously would not have been remembered so faithfully, unless she was undertaking stenography at age six So I felt like, as a reader, the authorial wool was being pulled over my eyes I also read, perhaps on Wikipedia, that some of the characters were composites Which, you know, is utterly fine unless you re James Frey go for it Novelize your memoir But don t pretend it s some kind of accurate account of people and events when it s a fictionalized montage It would have been nice to have an author s or editor s note in the edition explaining what was going on, but there wasn t in my Penguin edition. This is meant to be a memoir Unlike other memoirs diaries correspondence that some GR readers think are novels, this one really is a novel presented as a memoir We are told it covers the years when she was aged five to eight How could a child as young as Elspeth supposedly is during the action, hear those detailed adult conversations and remember them, let alone comprehending what was going on It s excellently well written, and one could argue that the author talked to people as an adult and reconstructed the scrappy memories of childhood from rumor and gossip and fact remembered by others But then we get the dream she relates in enormous detail, only to state in the very next sentence My dreams were always jumbled, and the next morning I could only remember bits of this one Yeahbits that form a detailed, coherent for a dream whole Uh huh.Another thing that annoyed me was the repeated statement that the Masai and other African groups had no conception that an animal could feel pain This is surprising when you consider how important, indeed basic, cattle are to their entire culture But then both she and all the white adults around her simply assume that they are superior in every way to the people who have lived there since time was That s the reason I ve shelved it as social realism it really does reflect the attitudes of the European settlers invaders colonists of the time.Many years ago I picked up The Mottled Lizard in a second hand shop, which covers her adolescent years At the time it made sense, as for many people the adolescent memories are the most lasting, coming as they do at an age when the youth feels their powers coming to them everything is immediate and makes a lasting impression Now, I feel that Huxley who also wrote mystery novels simply wove a good story out of what memories she had Reading that volume I interpreted her constant criticisms of her parents as being the voice of that adolescent we ve all been, which finds our parents every word and action embarassing beyond belief Putting this same patronising attitude in the mind and mouth of a small child who is supposedly sent miles on horseback to run errands for her parents as if she were a mini adult, just makes the main character seem very mean spirited. Ever get to the end of a book and contemplate flipping back to the first page and starting all over again This is a book whose world I just want to continue living in but, like the ending of a book, is a world that just doesn t exist any So much of the book, though it deals with people trying to start a new frontier life in Africa, is really about the ending of things, specifically the end of old Europe with the onset of World War 1.Elspeth, in the last chapter, writes about how she realized, quite suddenly and with some fright, how strangely interconnected all things are in life She blames herself for the death of Kate, not because of any direct fault of her own, but the indirect responsibility she had in the wounding of a buffalo All of a sudden the rational world she felt so sure of was gone and now replaced with uncertainty One could also quite easily see how people might then turn to superstition and folk magic to explain their place in the universe Charms, sacrifices, ceremonies, all the ways of life for the native Africans don t then seem so strange when we look at it through the lens of our own uncertainty in the scheme of the universe.But this one death and this one series of events is, all the while, back dropped by the war in Europe Events there of a much larger scale were colliding and would claim the lives of millions of people who were caught up in events they could not foresee or control Ian being the earliest example of a victim to circumstance.The whole book is filled with the parallels of their lives and that of WW1 the irrigation trenches being filled with water mirror the trenches of the un moving fronts, the tribal warfare parallels the conflict between nation states In some ways the book is as much about what happened to the whole world at the beginning of the 20th century as it is about one young girls experience growing up in Africa with her pioneering and liberal thinking parents Elspeth makes a strong case for how the world should behave She always details the solutions that people come up with be it how best to grow coffee in Africa, deal with tribal politics, or deal with some unusual neighbors she is always looking for a way to make things work And it s no wonder because much of the world was totally breaking down But she never becomes sentimental about her experiences Yes it is a very romantic setting and stunningly beautiful, but Elspeth is a realist who leans towards cautious optimism The characters in the book earn all their emotions, and there is never any melodrama or silliness here And a lot of how she makes this work is by seeing the world through such a young persons eyes She only ever gets to see and hear snippets of what s going on around her so she, like us, have to piece so much together This books great strength is that it takes us to that time and place, makes us empathize with this little girl and gets us to see the world for what it could be without ever cheating us emotionally This is a brilliant story one of the greatest books I have ever read In fact, I place this book right alongside Sergey Aksakov s A Family Chronicle as one of the finest pieces of writing ever published I absolutely adore this novel like nothing else I have ever read. image error A memoir of the author s childhood in Thika, a farm area outside Nairobi in colonial Kenya, just prior to World War I in 1913 when the author was six years old Her quirky parents traveled from England to Thika to start a coffee plantation In the early 20th century, the area was a mosaic of English, Scottish, and Dutch settlers trying to carve out a place among the native Kikuyu and Masai tribes Sometimes the two worlds intersected, but rarely did they blend.Huxley looks back on her family s adventure among the wildlife and wild people of Africa and describes it with insight and humor She includes tales of hunts, of Kikiyu and Masai tribes, and of her love for the people and animals of Africa Coming from pioneer stock myself, I loved her insights into living on the frontier Unfortunately, their adventure ended after less than two years because of the onset of the East Africa Campaign of World War I, but Elspeth spent most of her youth in other parts of Africa and then returned often to Africa as an adult As a side note not part of the book , the author married the cousin of Aldous Huxley, was friends with Joy Adamson, author of the African classic Born Free, and was widely considered to be a brilliant journalist, environmentalist, and government advisor She died in 1997.In 1981 the book was made into a seven episode mini series by AE It stars Hayley Mills as the author s mother and was shot on location in Kenya. In An Open Cart Elspeth Huxley Set Off With Her Parents To Travel To Thika In Kenya As Pioneering Settlers, They Built A House Of Grass, Ate Off A Damask Cloth Spread Over Packing Cases, And Discovered The Hard Way The World Of The African With An Extraordinary Gift For Detail And A Keen Sense Of Humor, Huxley Recalls Her Childhood On The Small Farm At A Time When Europeans Waged Their Fortunes On A Land That Was As Harsh As It Was Beautiful For A Young Girl, It Was A Time Of Adventure And Freedom, And Huxley Paints An Unforgettable Portrait Of Growing Up Among The Masai And Kikuyu People, Discovering Both The Beauty And The Terrors Of The Jungle, And Enduring The Rugged Realities Of The Pioneer Life Huxley writes lyrically and perceptively about growing up in British East Africa What I like most about this book is that it captures the wonder and curiosity of a young child quite convincingly Huxley does a marvelous job bringing the Kikuyu and Masai people to life, and she does an equally impressive job portraying the wildlife and natural environment This is a book filled with wonder It s a very sensory book one can almost see, hear, smell, and taste Africa Another aspect of the book that is especially well done is the depiction of diverse cultural viewpoints for the most part, the locals don t understand the British and vice versa Huxley does a good job of making it clear the origins of these misunderstandings, and she does it evenhandedly, with affection for all the cultures, including a clear eyed appraisal of how odd British concepts of land ownership must have seemed to, say, the Masai.