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The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood (Elspeth Huxley's Childhood Memoirs #1)

4.11  ·  Rating Details ·  4,130 Ratings  ·  206 Reviews
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 Europe ...more
Paperback, 281 pages
Published February 1st 2000 by Penguin Classics (first published 1959)
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Feb 08, 2009 Ferris rated it it was amazing
"The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood" by Elspeth Huxley, is an absolutely lovely recollection of childhood as it should be for every child. The daughter of two financially strapped, adventurous, and eternally optimistic parents, Elspeth recounts life in Thika in the bush of Kenya, where she spent her youth amongst the Kikuyu and Masai. She lived with nature, with superstitions, with death and love, and certainly writes about it all with great equanimity. She is able to cap ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Jun 03, 2008 Jeanette "Astute Crabbist" rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jeanette by: Book Lust, by Nancy Pearl
In 1913, when the author was six years old, she and her mother and father went to British East Africa (B.E.A.) to start a coffee plantation. This was nearly 100 years ago, when that area was mostly unsettled. Her father bought some property, sight unseen, in the middle of nowhere among the Kikuyu people. This book was especially fascinating for me because everything was so incredibly different from modern times.
The story is very simply told from her very early memories, although I suspect she
Jan 18, 2014 Lobstergirl rated it it was ok
Shelves: own, memoir

I seem to be one of the few readers who didn't love this tale of a young British family trying to start a coffee plantation in British East Africa (Kenya) in the period 1912-1914, their friendships with the other British colonials, and their interactions with the Kikuyu and Masai people who lived nearby, or worked for them. Actually, it completely bored me.

There was also something mildly unsettling about the narrator's "voice:" she's writing the memoir as an adult, about 50 years after the event
When we were kids we played in a field down the street from our house. If memory serves correctly (always a joke when it comes to my memory) the space was almost entirely undeveloped, so there was ample space for us to run and play. We rode our bikes down there, we chased butterflies, we caught bugs for science projects; I won't speak for my brothers or the friends I played with, but I also spent time down there letting my imagination go absolutely effing wild.

Reading Elspeth Huxley's memoirs of
Aug 05, 2014 Judy rated it really liked it
A memoir of the author's childhood in Thika, a farm area outside Nairobi in colonial Kenya, just prior to World War I in 1913 when the author was six years old. Her quirky parents traveled from England to Thika to start a coffee plantation. In the early 20th century, the area was a mosaic of English, Scottish, and Dutch settlers trying to carve out a place among the native Kikuyu and Masai tribes. Sometimes the two worlds intersected, but rarely did they blend.

Huxley looks back on her family's a
May 29, 2008 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
This book reminded me a little bit of Little House on the Prairie with some adult bits thrown in. The main character is a young girl who comes to Kenya with her parents so that they can do the pioneering thing: working with the Kikuyu and Masai, planting coffee, grafting fruit trees, swapping spouses. Meanwhile the little girl waxes poetic about killer ants that can only be avoided with ashes, her pony, buffaloes, war dances, murder, and snippets of the adult world. Her view of Africa is somewha ...more
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Elizabeth (Miss Eliza)
*Special Content only on my blog, Strange and Random Happenstance during Ashford April (April 2013).

In the late twenties, Kenya became known for it's "Happy Valley." A place of paradise and pleasure, where you could start your life over a make a fortune in coffee or dairy. But to those who settled there before the first world war, it was an entirely different world. In 1913 Elspeth Huxley's family moved to Thika to start a coffee plantation. They had heard there where fortunes to be made... only
I spent some time in Kenya in 1996, when I was just a teen, on a mission trip with my church. We spent most of our time in a tiny village called Kibwezi without electricity (but we had running water!), and we lived in tents for a month while we helped out at the polytechnic we sponsored and helped build new classrooms from native brick. It's one of my most cherished memories, and so I love to read books on Kenya throughout its history.

I absolutely wanted to love this book. I don't know whether i
Oct 30, 2014 Hope rated it really liked it
From page one of The Flame Trees of Thika I knew I’d stumbled across an incredibly observant and eloquent writer. Huxley succeeds in helping the reader taste, smell and see Kenya at the beginning of the 20th century.

It was a stroke of brilliance to write this book from the point of view of a small child. Obviously the book’s descriptions and insights into human nature are far beyond the powers of a child to communicate, but the child-as-narrator was a powerful tool because the author was able t
Jul 19, 2014 Mary rated it it was ok
I had been searching for this book for a few years after reading an article about the author-she lived a full and adventurous life. It had also mentioned her childhood in Africa and I have been drawn to stories of Africa since reading the book West With the Night years ago. Well at last I found the book at a reasonable price and settled down to enjoy. The writing style was strange-it was sort of written in the first person but not always. She seemed to mostly refer to her parents by their first ...more
Nov 19, 2011 Pam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I could not put this childhood adventure down..neglected everything complete this book!When I read the last sentence,I knew I'd joined the author on her journey!

Elspeth Huxley writes in plain sentence form of her experience in British East Africa aka Kenya of present the foothills of Mt Kenya.She traveled with her parents to Thika in Kenya to live among the Kikuyu tribe where the houses were built of grass.Yet,she dined & had tea off a damask cloth spread over packing cases
Kim Moravec
Feb 14, 2015 Kim Moravec rated it really liked it
I picked this book up randomly in a used book store without understanding how prolific or important Huxley was as a writer. As the back cover of my edition states, this is more of a re-creation than an exact account (along the lines of the Little House series), but, given her skill as a writer, I prefer the re-creation. (Although how this child happens to always just happens to be in a position to overhear adults carrying on their love affairs gets a little ridiculous about two-thirds in.) The t ...more
Dec 17, 2012 Bobbi rated it liked it
Shelves: autobiography
In 1971 I had the good fortune of spending six weeks studying in Kenya and Tanzania, some of the same places that the author lived and wrote about. Reading this book today, almost a century after it was written, the changes that have taken place are not only shocking but tremendously sad. Native Africans lived for centuries in the area, taking only what they needed to live on. The land belonged to all which is why the English (and other Europeans) felt that they could take whatever they wanted a ...more
Feb 17, 2010 Greg rated it it was amazing
The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood" by Elspeth Huxley, is a delightful book, about a girl who goes from England to Kenya at age six, where her parents run a coffee plantation.

The book describes an idyllic childhood, just as I think it should be for any child. I do have some bias in that I grew up in northern Tanzania for fourteen years, so the experiences Elspeth wrote about were vivid and realistic, especially in her experiences with the Kikuyu and Masaai tribal people.
Feb 11, 2008 Kay rated it it was amazing
Huxley writes lyrically and perceptively about growing up in British East Africa. What I like most about this book is that it captures the wonder and curiosity of a young child quite convincingly. Huxley does a marvelous job bringing the Kikuyu and Masai people to life, and she does an equally impressive job portraying the wildlife and natural environment. This is a book filled with wonder. It's a very sensory book -- one can almost see, hear, smell, and taste Africa.

Another aspect of the book
Jan 07, 2013 Erin rated it it was amazing
One of my all time favorite books. I discovered this memoir when I was a young girl and I saw the BBC production/mini series. I read the source book back then and loved it. I read it again recently and still loved it. Both a portrait of Africa during imperialism, the struggle of the settlers in their harsh surroundings, and a coming of age story for a young girl. Many aspects of the book are not very politically correct but they reflect the feelings of the turn of the century when this occurred. ...more
Fred Shaw
Apr 11, 2016 Fred Shaw rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book immensely. The story of a family and their life being cut out of raw African land, as seen through a child's eyes. The setting is early 20th century before WWI, about the same time Isak Dinensen was at her farm in the Ngong hills. Hardly roads or any comforts; all had to be done by the family. One important observation that struck me was how in this case the English, who came to bring culture, religion and government to the savages, were really upsetting the course of life of ...more
Jun 03, 2009 Lucy rated it it was amazing
Loved it! Like Out of Africa, it takes place in a bygone age; one in which I wish I could have participated. This is also a memoir but told from the point of view of the author as a young girl. Her naivete makes the story much more appealing than it would have been if told from an adult perspective. It, too, is idealized. I doubt any of the black Africans would have been as enamored of the colonists had they been the authors. But, since I'm about to head off on Safari in Zimbabwe in a couple of ...more
Mar 20, 2008 Gloria rated it it was amazing
This is basically "Ann of Green Gables" meets 1900s Colonial Africa. The memoirs of growing up British, on a plantation, pre-WW I, with all the expectations of upper crust British society meeting the African natives, their life styles and customs is truly culture clash. This was made into a Masterpiece Theater presentation (Hayley Mills was the mother)....good read and the history you learn is painless. The Mottle Lizard, the conclusion, is also very good...but I prefer the Flame Trees best.
Oct 27, 2015 Liz rated it really liked it
So good! I have a weird thing for books about white people in Africa (Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, Out of Africa, The Poisonwood Bible), and this is a new favorite. Huxley is a lovely writer and is especially good at recounting adult situations from a child's perspective. Plus, the love story between Lettice and Ian Crawfurd KILLS me.
Jul 03, 2016 Catriona rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! It's old fashioned and a bit romanticized, but is such a lovely way to "feel" what it might have been like to be an English child in Kenya at that time. I've just been reading some WW1 history, and the reminder that this book ends just as millions of men are about to die in the most terrible war makes the childhood storytelling of this book extra poignant. Recommended!
Eleanor Lux
May 29, 2014 Eleanor Lux rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I love the movie based on the movie I loved listening to it on CD as I drove across the country. I think I should read some of her other books again because they all make my heart flutter
May 12, 2016 E rated it really liked it
I very much enjoyed Elspeth's stories It was more a memoir of the Dutch immigrant and the people around her so while it lacked a passion.for Africa it abounded in a child's innocent adventures trying to be a kid among grownups.
Jul 24, 2012 Carolyn rated it liked it
My mother gave me this book when we lived in Kenya, many years ago. For some reason, I never read it until now. It was a slow but charming memoir of Elspeth Huxley's life in colonial Kenya in the very early 1900's.
Catherine Jarman Rouzer
Magical images

Magical, depictions of Africa right before the start of WWI. Beautiful story & images. Would like to know more about the author and more pictures.
Marius van Blerck
Sep 23, 2009 Marius van Blerck rated it really liked it
A great autobiographical work from a writer who wrote mystery stories (but too few, alas) on a par with Agatha Christie.
May 06, 2016 Amber rated it liked it
This was a fascinating read; however, it wasn't very cohesive. I learned so much about Nairobi. Huxley is a gifted author who paints a vivid portrait of her life in Africa.
Feb 07, 2012 Margie rated it really liked it
Really lovely. She was able to capture her childhood recollections and express them without much adult overlay. Just very straightforward, as a child would be.
Michelle Meades
Jun 08, 2012 Michelle Meades rated it it was amazing
really interesting about living in Africa - all the bugs and animals were great to hear about - might make a good battle book for teens
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500 Great Books B...: The Flame Trees of Thika - Elspeth Huxley 1 9 Jul 13, 2014 05:50PM  
  • Twenty Chickens for a Saddle
  • Rainbow's End: A Memoir of Childhood, War and an African Farm
  • Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa
  • The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe
  • African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe
  • Letters from Africa, 1914-1931
  • Two Under the Indian Sun
  • I Dreamed of Africa: Tie In Edition
  • Cry of the Kalahari
  • Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller
  • Travels in West Africa
  • Where We Have Hope: A Memoir of Zimbabwe
  • Too Close to the Sun: The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton
  • White Mischief
  • Emma's War
  • The White Nile
  • Travels Into the Interior of Africa
  • West with the Night
Elspeth Joscelin Huxley CBE was a polymath, writer, journalist, broadcaster, magistrate, environmentalist, farmer, and government advisor. She wrote 30 books; but she is best known for her lyrical books The Flame Trees of Thika and The Mottled Lizard which were based on her experiences growing up in a coffee farm in Colonial Kenya.

Nellie and Major Josceline Grant, Elspeth Grant's parents, arrived
More about Elspeth Huxley...

Other Books in the Series

Elspeth Huxley's Childhood Memoirs (2 books)
  • The Mottled Lizard

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“How much does one imagine, how much observe? One can no more separate those functions than divide light from air, or wetness from water.” 1119 likes
“this was a moment of magic revealing to us all, for a few moments, a hidden world of grace and wonder beyond the one of which our eyes told us, a world that no words could delineate, as insubstanttial as a cloud, as iridescent as a dragon-fly and as innocent as the heart of a rose.” 17 likes
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