This book is the third in the author’s memoirs, following The Flame Trees of Thika and The Mottled Lizard. I am sorry to report that I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much, it didn’t quite feel like a memoir to me and lacked the personal touch. It’s set between WWI and WWII, when the author returned to Kenya yet again, now as an adult. She went back in order to do research, to write about the country’s growth, the lives of ex-pats and pioneers that led rugged lives trying to make a living on wild land, and the upheavals and conflicts that occurred as colonialism neared its end. Most of the book feels like a history, with small anecdotal stories and glimpses into the personalities of some notable people in the community, and ranchers near where she had lived. Some of this was very interesting, other parts that got more into politics or how government mismanaged things, not so much (for me). In the first part of the book I was skimming a lot and wondering if I’d finish it. Later it held my interest more, even though some parts felt repetitive from the previous two books- here again is the story of the bank built around a safe that couldn’t be moved, of her first actual hunting safari, of the affair between her neighbors. It was intriguing to read her account of several other people I’ve encountered in books- she writes about Beryl Markham and Karen Blixen (aka Isak Denisen), but in the latter case, either it’s been so long since I read Out of Africa, or this account was from such an entirely different perspective, I didn’t recognize anything about it at all. Some parts I particularly liked: reading about how the native Dorobo people tended wild honeybee hives. The few parts where she actually describes her travels to different parts of the country to visit those she hoped would share their stories, journals, letters and records, or just sit for an interview. Brief accounts of incidents among nature, including some hunts (when she was still avid about that). Some bits of tribal stories and legends. It did spark my interest to read a few more of her books, that she mentioned in here. I am not sure yet if I will enjoy reading this one again, I have a feeling it’s one of those that will be better a second time around, when I’m in a different mindset. So it’s staying on my shelf for now.
One thing I found odd, and failed to mention about the previous two books although it was a constant feature there. She refers to her parents and her husband by their first names, and never once introduces who they are. The first time they’re mentioned on the page, it’s just something like Gervas met me at the station but the reader is never told what their relationship is. This really threw me off in the first book, written from her childhood perspective and constantly calling her mother Nellie, it took me along while to realize this was her parent! Here the same, she leaps right into telling what’s happening sometimes without alerting the reader to who all the people are, or framing the incident or place in any way, so I was left mentally floundering a few times. Perhaps I just wasn’t paying enough attention? but I don’t think so. One of those writers who just seems to assume you know all the broader details around their circumstances already. I don’t need all the things spelled out for me, but this seemed a bit lacking in that regard.