An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa
By Mark Seal
(Random House, Hardcover, 9781400067367, 256pp.)
Publication Date: May 26, 2009
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Wildflower is a compelling work of narrative nonfiction in which the shocking death of a dedicated environmentalist becomes a broader story of a beautiful, breathtaking country in peril.
In January 2006, Joan Root, a sixty-nine-year-old naturalist, Oscar-nominated wildlife filmmaker, and staunch conservationist, was murdered by two masked men armed with an AK-47 shortly after midnight in her bedroom on the shore of Kenya’s beautiful Lake Naivasha. Was it a random robbery gone bad, as the local police seemed to think, or was it a cold-blooded contract killing carried out at the behest of enemies Root had made in her efforts to protect Kenya’s wildlife? Veteran journalist Mark Seal set out to investigate this gripping real-life murder mystery–and instead found an unforgettable story not only of a tragic death but of the remarkable life that preceded it.
With compassion and an unswerving regard for the truth, Seal lays bare the deeply moving, inspirational history of Joan Root, covering her early days in Kenya as a shy young woman with an almost uncanny ability to connect to animals; her whirlwind courtship with the dashing Alan Root, their marriage, and the twenty years of nonstop adventure, passionate romance, and groundbreaking wildlife filmmaking that followed, both in Africa and around the world; the shattering disintegration of the marriage and partnership; and Joan’s triumphant struggle to reinvent herself as the protector of her lakeshore community’s fragile ecosystem–a struggle that would lead to her death.
Wildflower is also the story of Kenya itself. A country blessed with unmatched beauty that is one of the last repositories of rare wildlife on the African continent, Kenya has also been scarred by decades of colonization and a culture of corruption fueled by the frequently competing agendas of conservationists and business interests. Joan Root dreamed of a bright future for Kenya and spent her life fighting with quiet heroism and courage to make that dream a reality. Her life ended too soon, but her legacy lives on.
Mark Seal has been a journalist for more than thirty years. Currently a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, he has written for many major magazines and served as a collaborator on almost twenty nonfiction books. Although he has written thousands of stories, Seal says none has struck a chord with readers more than the story of the incredible life and brutal death of Joan Root, which he originally reported in the August 2006 issue of Vanity Fair. He lives in Aspen, Colorado.