Robyn Scott's story of moving at the age of seven to Botswana with her adventure-seeking parents is described by Alexander McCall Smith as "beautifully written" and "acutely observed." It is that and more. Twenty Chickens for a Saddle is an exquisitely rendered portrait of Africa, and of childhood, written by an astonishing new talent.
The Scotts are truly one of the most unusual families you are likely to meet. Robyn's father is a flying doctor who always wanted to be a vet. Her mother believes in holistic medicine and homeschooling. Both are deeply eccentric, and under their affectionate but relaxed guidance, life for the children is a daily adventure of the kind usually confined to storybooks.
Storybooks-or being read to from them-comprise, it turns out, most of their homeschooled education. That, and searching the surrounding bush for animals (poisonous and otherwise) to let loose in their schoolroom. As a result of the absolute freedom of spirit, thought, and movement that they are given, all three children grow into fascinating, if rather eccentric, characters in their own right.
When the family moves to a game farm bordering South Africa, the children become more aware of the darker undercurrents of life in Africa. Here the apartheid mind-set lives on in many of their white South African neighbors. And when at fourteen Robyn begins conventional school in neighboring Zimbabwe, she sees more of the racism initially only glimpsed in Botswana. AIDS also rears its head. Long witnessed by Robyn's father at his village clinics, the existence of the disease is acknowledged by the government too late-only as death, on an unprecedented scale, begins to devastate this peaceful and prosperous African country.
Robyn Scott is an extraordinarily gifted writer and storyteller. Like the witch doctors who compete with her father for patients, she weaves a spell from the start. Her funny, moving memoir, told with clear-eyed unsentimental affection, is about an idyllic childhood and a family's enthusiasm for each other and the world around them, with the essence of Africa-both beautiful and challenging-infusing every page.
Above the bush, the pink and orange streaked sky had
faded to gray. Inside, it was almost dark, and Grandpa,
in his chair beneath the room's only window, caught the last of
the light. He sat completely still, smiling at our confusion.
His whisper had silenced the conversation. "Look who's joining us for drinks," he had said. But nothing had moved. The door remained closed, the cat curled peacefully on the sofa. No new sounds interrupted the soft ring of chirps, rustles, and faraway hunting barks.
We waited for an explanation. He gave none. His gaze alternated between us and the ceiling; his body remained still. One hand clutched a small glass, full with an equal mixture of red wine and grape juice; the other lay on the armrest, long fingers digging into the worn velvet covers.
Then a flicker near the ceiling, and a shadowy creature plunged out of the gloom.
Just above his head, close enough to brush wisps of thin white hair, it ...
Most of us read for many reasons. Escape, adventure, understanding of other cultures, but always for a good story. Twenty Chickens for a Saddle, the story of a remarkable family, will give you all of the above and then some. I highly recommend it.
(Reviewed by Vy Armour).
Full Review (1177 words).
Interesting Facts About
Since independence in 1966, the former British Protectorate of Bechuanaland has transformed itself from one of the continent's poorest nations into one of its most prosperous. Botswana's vast diamond wealth has underpinned this boom (Jwaneng, the world's largest and richest diamond mine, was discovered when termites looking for water brought grains of diamond to the surface), but, making it almost unique among its neighbors, the money has been carefully ...
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