Twenty Chickens for a Saddle

Twenty Chickens for a Saddle

The Story of an African Childhood

By Robyn Scott

Penguin Press HC, The, Hardcover, 9781594201592, 464pp.

Publication Date: March 27, 2008

Description

A glorious new voice on Africa, Robyn Scott's adventures growing up in Botswana in a loving but eccentric family will be one of the season's most talked-about memoirs

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.