The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood
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The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  2,974 ratings  ·  150 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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Ferris
"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 5 of 5 stars
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...more
Lobstergirl

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...more
El
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...more
Greg
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....more
Elizabeth
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
Judy
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...more
Mary
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
Pam
I could not put this childhood adventure down..neglected everything
today..to 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 day..at 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...more
Bobbi
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
Erin
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
Kay
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...more
Eleanor Lux
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
Lucy
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
Rhonda Lawrence
I had trouble getting into the book. I thought there were many too many characters, and had to write them all down. It wasn't an exciting book, either. But, the more I read, the more I appreciated it. It took you to pre WWI British colonialism, with elitist attitudes and prejudices. African people, customs and laws were viewed in a condescending way. From the eyes of a little girl, though, there was a brighter view, and she and her mother, Tilly, became more comfortable living amongst the native...more
Gloria
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.
Margie
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.
Dan
Ever get to the end of a book and contemplate flipping back to the first page and starting all over again? This is a book whose world I just want to continue living in but, like the ending of a book, is a world that just doesn't exist anymore. So much of the book, though it deals with people trying to start a new frontier life in Africa, is really about the ending of things, specifically the end of old Europe with the onset of World War 1.

Elspeth, in the last chapter, writes about how she realiz...more
Marius van Blerck
A great autobiographical work from a writer who wrote mystery stories (but too few, alas) on a par with Agatha Christie.
Rachel
Saw this in the early 80s on PBS, did not do justice to this fabulous book!
Eric
I think I may over-romanticize colonial Africa, but somehow it seems to epitomize the adventurous, industrious spirit of turn-of-the-century Europeans, which I think can be described simply as ambitious and courageous. If you can look past the results of Euro-African colonization you'll see that these people were risk takers in the greatest sense of the the word. The majority of African settlers were different than what North American settlers were portrayed as. They weren't fleeing any social,...more
Richard
The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley an autobiography of a 10 year old English girl (written many years afterwards) who, along with her family move to Kenya in the mid 1916s or so.
Comments from the back of the book:
“With and extraordinary gift for detail and a keen sense of humor, Elspeth Huxley recalls her childhood on a small farm in Kenya at the turn of the century. It was a time when Europeans waged their fortunes on a land that was as harsh as it was beautiful. For a young girl it wa...more
Linda
In 1913 Elspeth Huxley and her parents traveled from England to Kenya, where her father, Robin, had dreams of owning and running a coffee plantation. Robin was pretty clueless about methods he should use to fulfill his dreams, such as how to befriend the natives and convince them to come and work for him. His wife, Tilly, was adventuresome and resourceful; she kept house under primitive conditions, home schooled Elspeth, and befriended the British neighbors who gradually settled nearby. They lef...more
Julie
This book was the story of Elspeths Huxley's childhood, pre 1914 when the british were encouraged to travel to British East africa (Kenya) and start farming, it showed how hard life was for the early settlers and how it was so hard to actually start farming or actually grow anything nature always seemed to be against everything the settlers tried.The description of the unspoilt land and the vegetation was wonderful,unfortunately it was also a time when the British (and other nationalities) saw a...more
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...more
Paultaylor
Slightly Foxed established by Hazel wood and Gail Purkiss publish a quarterly literary magazine, have a second hand bookshop in the Gloucester Road and have published eighteen partially forgotten biographies in cloth bound hard back using the most exquisite paper. The print run is only 2000 copies and will build into the most delightful library to hand on to future generations. All this for a UK price of £15 ($25). Not all the titles are as interesting as this one but all the books are worth own...more
Kerrie
In her 1989 introduction, Huxley explains that many of the people in her memoir, specifically the Europeans, were fictionalizations....I read the 1959 version not knowing this. I still loved it but I think about Lettice and Ian, now as epically colonial British characters, not people, suffering from love whilst suffering in the harsh African landscape, but still dressing in white for dinner and serving drinks in cut crystal with Victorian furniture, sitting on paraffin tins to keep away the swar...more
Elizabeth
I watched this book when it was a miniseries on Masterpiece Theater when I was 6. I loved it because my name is Elizabeth and the miniseries was about a little girl named Elspeth (this seemed exciting at the time because the Masterpiece Theatre miniseries then were usually -- my view at 6 -- stuffy costumed people and they never had little girls). Gulp ... 26 years pass ... and I wasn't sure what I would think about the story so many years later. I was not disappointed, and I really enjoyed the...more
Daren
A memoir, written much later in life, of the author as a six year old, arriving in Kenya with her parents in 1913. The story follows her life for a few years, before her father leaves for the war and she and her mother return to England.
At the time Thika was a remote area of Kenya, and their neighbours were other settlers, English, Scottish, Dutch and South African. There were of course native people in the area.
Written with the author as a child, she displays the childlike naivety in some areas...more
Wangui
Written from the recollections of Elspeth as a child, Flame Trees reads like a pioneer book. It was great to have human accounts of the process of settlement by foreigners in Kenya, a story that is often only told in clear-cut ways: "they came, they stole, they refused, we fought, they left." and to hear the story from the settler's point of view (and all the diverse kinds there were: those who actually intended to settle, the broke ones, the Boers, the racist ones, the ones who stayed in the ci...more
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500 Great Books B...: The Flame Trees of Thika - Elspeth Huxley 1 1 Jul 13, 2014 05:50PM  
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  • Twenty Chickens For A Saddle
  • Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa
  • The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe
  • I Dreamed of Africa (movie tie-in)
  • Cry of the Kalahari
  • Out of Africa / Shadows on the Grass
  • Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller
  • Too Close to the Sun: The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton
  • African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe
  • Where We Have Hope: A Memoir of Zimbabwe
  • West with the Night
  • Travels in West Africa
  • Two Under the Indian Sun
  • Letters from Africa, 1914-1931
  • Travels Into the Interior of Africa
  • White Mischief
  • My Traitor's Heart: A South African Exile Returns to Face His Country, His Tribe, and His Conscience
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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
More about Elspeth Huxley...
The Mottled Lizard Red Strangers Out in the Midday Sun Murder on Safari The African Poison Murders

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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.” 12 likes
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