Richard's Reviews > The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood

The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley
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's review
Jul 05, 2008

really liked it

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 was a time of adventure and freedom, and Huxley paints an unforgettable portrait of growing up among the Masai and Kikuyo people, discovering both the beauties and terrors of the jungle, and enduring the rugged realities of the pioneer life.”

Some quotations:
“They went on talking about the sunset and ideas it suggested to them, which were many; each mind fertilized the other. I did not listen, for the crimson sky, the golden light streaming down the valley, and then its obliteration by the dusk, as if some great lamp had turned down in the heavens, filled me with the terrible melancholy that sometimes wrings the hearts of children, and can never be communicated or explained. It was as if the day, which was unique, and could never come again, had been struck down like the duiker (small deer) and lay there bleeding, and then was swallowed into oblivion; as if something in each one of us had died with it, and could never be recalled. I felt it desperately important that the moment should be halted, the life of the day preserved, its death indefinitely postponed, and that the memory of every instant, of every fleck of colour in the tremendous sky, should be branded on my mind so as to become much a part of my existence as an eye or hand.” P. 128.

“The best way to find things out is not to ask questions at all. If you fire off a question, it is like firing off a gun; bang it goes, and everything takes flight and runs for shelter. But if you sit quite still and pretend not to be looking, all the little facts will come and peck round your feet, situations will venture forth from thickets, and intentions will creep out and sun themselves on a stone; and if you are very patient, you will see and understand a great deal more than a man with a gun. P.264

Just before Huxley is to leave to go back to Europe (because of the impending WWI) she goes by the local native village to say good bye.
“One of the wives, with wide cheek-bones, eyes like a moth’s, and an air of wisdom and sadness, spoke to me in Kikuyu and put into my hand a necklace of blue and white beads.
‘These you must take to Europe and wear for us,’ Kupanya (the chief) explained. ‘These beads will be like our people, the blue ones are men, the white ones are women, and the children are the spaces in between, and the thread is the river that runs past your father’s shamba (farm). If you wear it always, you will come back safely to greet us again.’
“The women crowded round and several of them gave me presents also—a lump of dough wrapped in a leaf, and iron bangle, a roasted maize-cob, a dried gourd, a small kiondo (a small woven bag for carrying grain). P. 272
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04/07/2016 marked as: read

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