Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood

Overview

An exquisitely rendered portrait of an African childhood from an astonishing new talent

When Robyn Scott 's parents decide to uproot their young family from New Zealand and move to a converted cowshed in rural Botswana, life for six-year-old Robyn changed forever. In this wild and new landscape excitement can be found around every corner, and with each misadventure she and her family learn more about the quirks, charms, and challenges of living in one of Africa's most remarkable...

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Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood

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Overview

An exquisitely rendered portrait of an African childhood from an astonishing new talent

When Robyn Scott 's parents decide to uproot their young family from New Zealand and move to a converted cowshed in rural Botswana, life for six-year-old Robyn changed forever. In this wild and new landscape excitement can be found around every corner, and with each misadventure she and her family learn more about the quirks, charms, and challenges of living in one of Africa's most remarkable and beautiful countries as it stands on the brink of an epidemic. When AIDS rears its head, the Scotts witness the early appearances of a disease that will devastate this peaceful and prosperous country. Told with clear-eyed unsentimental affection, Twenty Chickens for a Saddle is about a family's enthusiasm for each other and the world around them, with the essence of Africa infusing every page.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In 1987, Scott's parents ended "a peripatetic decade" through South Africa, England, and New Zealand, and returned to Botswana with seven-year-old Robyn and her younger siblings. Her mother is a dedicated homeschooler ("Children learn best in unstructured situations, when they don't know they're learning"); her father is a doctor, who often serves "more than one hundred patients a day." Grandpa Ivor, a former ace bush pilot, whose later ventures include coffin making, and Grandpa Terry, the personnel manager of a mine, are both great storytellers. Taut and coherent vignettes breathe life into the characters, and Scott's own storytelling skill renders childhood ventures (breaking a horse, falling into a thornbush, distributing Christmas bags) with remarkable immediacy and liveliness. There are snakes, metaphorical and real, though the former rarely intrude upon the child's idyllic world. The real snakes provide moments "where we never knew what we'd learn, only that it would be interesting." A venomous puff adder serves as anatomy lesson, and her mother turns "the death of a juvenile brown house snake into an exhilarating philosophical lecture." Happy stories are hard to tell, but Scott succeeds in this engaging recreation of a child's Botswana, apolitical and Eden-like. She has no sordid revelations, no shocking surprises-just a raconteur's talent for making any story she tells interesting. (Apr.)

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Kirkus Reviews
Vigorous recollections of a youth spent among "profoundly fringy" adults "in the middle of nowhere."Scott moved with her idiosyncratic parents from New Zealand to Botswana in 1987, when she was almost seven years old. In minute detail, she sketches the landscape, the people she encountered and the innumerable problems that beset her family. She paints her wanderlust-stricken parents as singular human beings with a deep desire to avoid mundanity at any cost. Her father was "an accidental doctor": Cape Town University in his native South Africa didn't offer courses in his preferred field, veterinary medicine, so he had to settle for ministering to human beings. His wife, who grew up in Botswana, shared his belief in alternative medicine and home schooling. Together they roved from London to Cape Town to Auckland before settling with their three children in Botswana. Right next door was inimitable Grandpa Ivor, a World War II veteran of the South African Air Force, pressed into service to fly his son to the area's remote bush clinics until Dad got a pilot's license. Granny Joan and Grandpa Terry, Mum's parents, also played key roles in the author's life. Following some brief passages explaining her parents' globetrotting exploits, Scott unleashes astonishing stories about her Botswana childhood: Their first residence was a dilapidated cowshed; the cow died from eating plastic bags; her dad sometimes drank his own urine, etc. After the family moved to their own farm in the early '90s, home schooling gave way to a conventional education, which the author describes as "boring." (It would be, compared to her family.) The book's most moving passages delineate her tireless father's heroicadventures as an ill-equipped doctor. They range from an extraordinary tale about a man who somehow inserted a ten-centimeter-long snake's tail into his penis to accounts of the author's mercurial, ceaselessly inventive work with AIDS patients. A colorful, occasionally shocking fish-out-of-water memoir. Agent: David Godwin/David Godwin Associates
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143115090
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 3/31/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 400,724
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in 1981, Robyn Scott began her formal education at the age of fourteen, when she started boarding school in Zimbabwe. Moving to New Zealand for her undergraduate degree, she studied bioinformatics at the University of Auckland. In 2004, she was awarded a Gates Scholarship to Cambridge University, where she took an MPhil in Bioscience Enterprise, focused on the pricing of medicines in developing countries. Robyn lives in London, but visits and works regularly in southern Africa.

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Table of Contents

Grandpa's Visitors     1
The Cowshed and the Witch Doctor     15
Kissing Snakes     31
Ngaka and Mmangaka     49
Schools of Thought     55
School     75
Sunbeams and Chameleons     85
Mum's Experiment     97
Shocking Experiences     109
Grandpa Ivor     119
Whispers about Lions     133
The Clinics     145
Lessons     163
Living on the Fringe     177
Christmas     203
The Whole Family's Half of an Island     217
Prizes for the Gifted     231
The Good Karma of Khama     245
Fiddian Green     255
Neighbors     271
Good Neighbors     287
School     305
Lulu and Damien     323
Mum     339
Talking about Lions     365
Elizabeth     383
Dad     399
Leaving Limpopo     417
Epilogue     439
Acknowledgments     447
Glossaries     450

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 8 of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2009

    Please read this book!

    This book gets my highest rating - for writing and for inspiration. A childhood of freedom and discovery. Robyn Scott writes beautifully of Africa and her family and her feelings. I have huge respect for her parents' courage to live life and raise and educate their children by their own lights. I will read this book for a second time - something I rarely do. It may be a cliche to say that Ms. Scott is a bright light - but that's what she is. She inspires me to create ways to contribute positively to my world.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2013

    I loved this book. I have read many coming-of-age in Africa memo

    I loved this book. I have read many coming-of-age in Africa memoirs, and this one certainly had something to offer. A great read! 

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  • Posted October 1, 2011

    Highly recommend. This should be a movie!

    Highly recommend! This should be a MOVIE.

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    Posted April 7, 2010

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    Posted December 13, 2009

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    Posted January 25, 2011

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 8 of 7 Customer Reviews

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