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Flame Trees Of Thika [Paperback]

Elspeth Huxley
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 3 2000 Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics
New editions of Elspeth Huxley's stirring account of her childhood in Kenya and her novel of the destructive forces of colonization.

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.

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About the Author

Elspeth Huxley (1907-1997) was educated at the European school in Nairobi and at Reading University. Her books include novels, detective fiction, biography, and travel writing.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary! Aug. 18 2002
The African landscape and the people in "The Flame Trees of Thika" became so real to me that I grieved when the book ended. Six-year-old Elspeth Huxley's parents and friends became my parents and friends. Elspeth said of Tilly, her perfectionist mother, "it was the details others might not notice that destroyed her, the pleasure of achievement." However Robin, Elspeth's idealistic father, "as a rule, had his mind on distant greater matters always much more promising and congenial than those closer at hand."
Other notable characters included Elspeth's neighbors the beautiful, Lattice and her formal husband, Hereward, the kindly Ian, their house guest, who was in love with Lattice; Juma, their Swahili cook, Sammy their Masai/Kikuyu headman and Njombo, the Kikuju laborer's spokesman.
Huxley has the rare ability to understand and convey the culture and viewpoint of both the European colonial settlers and the Kikuyu and Masai people. The materialistic Europeans were critical of the nomadic Kikuyus who do not aspire to change, tame, possess or improve the countryside. The Kikuya, in turn, were mystified at the white man's sense of property ownership and the concept of theft. For the Kikuyu helping yourself to the possessions of the white man "was no more robbing than to take the honey from wild bees."
At the heart of the story is the beauty and the challenge of life in Africa in the early 20th Century.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Embers from the age of empire Oct. 10 2000
This book is on the same sort of rank and the same genre as Out of Africa. A literary autobiography set in Kenya during an uncertain and enterprising colonial era before the First World War.
It's strongest elements include a deep sensitivity to the travails of animal life up against white hunters and farmers, very full accounts of the Kikuyu people and their rivalries with other Africans and it also paints a vivid portrait of pioneering planters and their servants in the shadow of the Great War.
The vantage of the book is greater than that of Out of Africa by Blixen being a less personal tale. it is a faithful, sometimes harrowing tale culled from an excellent store of memories representing times and scenes gone by. Huxley is not short on romance and tragedy.
This book is an ideal companion to those interested in the British Empire and African anthropology. For naturalists it provides breathtaking accounts of white hunters and their quarry as a retrospective commentary on man's abuse of Africa's wild heritage. Huxley writes quietly, sensitively and impartially providing philosophic insights in a heuristic and magical narrative. Always compelling, this is an important primary text.
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5.0 out of 5 stars classic autobio of girl's colonial african life May 10 2002
strikingly similar to dineson's 'out of africa', 'flame trees' is a woman-in-colonial-africa's autobiographical memoir, written even more cleanly and elegantly, though from a girl's view. just like dineson, there's only the trace of real plot driving things along, but nonetheless the well-described observations of life on a remote african farm combined with a certain curiousity about how things will end up are compelling enough to carry this book along in a very satisfying way. if not already clear, these two books make very nice companions, and huxley also wrote a second book that's probably worth a look. &, if you start to hanker for this niche but highly worthwhile genre of rare 'adventurous great women writers of the mid-20th century' check out my listmania list.
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5.0 out of 5 stars breathtaking, unforgettable. Sept. 29 2001
This book is a real literary treasure. I read it first as a teenager. It astonished me then, with its unique portrayal of Africa. Who could fail to love the African wilderness and its diverse people after reading The Flame Trees of Thika?! Africa seen through Huxley's youthful eyes is given a magical quality I have never again encountered (though BBC came close to portraying it in their rendition of this book). And it continues to astonish me now, twenty years later (oh dear, I have dated myself). The spectacular visual imagery from that book are a treasured keepsake, and the book itself is nothing less than a 20th Century masterpiece. It is a priceless gem and well worth the cost.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and tedious, both April 1 2004
I enjoyed the first two-thirds of this book, but after awhile found all the tiny details tedious. Every noun has six adjectives.
My basic quibble is that it is supposedly from the point of view of a seven year old child, but her thoughts and observations are those of an adult. Is this Huxley remembering at age 46, or is this supposed to be what a seven-year old observed?
At one moment we have a child, playing in the yard with chameleons and the next a child who understands the love affairs of adults.
Well, that's the problem with a memoire that tries to be a novel, and fails, I might add.
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