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

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

by Robyn Scott
 

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Grandpa said that in Botswana going to funerals was practically a national pastime. Not actually knowing the deceased did not, moreover, prevent people attending a funeral.

"It's a perfect market, Robbie! Business is all about time and motion and understanding your market." Hands on hips, he paused and glared down at me. "D'ya understand what I'm saying?"

Overview

Grandpa said that in Botswana going to funerals was practically a national pastime. Not actually knowing the deceased did not, moreover, prevent people attending a funeral.

"It's a perfect market, Robbie! Business is all about time and motion and understanding your market." Hands on hips, he paused and glared down at me. "D'ya understand what I'm saying?" "'Course I do," I said, still a bit confused. "Marvelous." He relaxed, smiled, and began his laps again. "You'll make a great little entrepreneur. Might even have you running my company one day." "Really?"

But Grandpa wasn't listening anymore. "By then I'll be supplying coffins all over the country-and beyond. Internationally." He gazed into the distance above the corrugated tin roof. "A coffin empire!" He took a deep breath. "Now, how does that sound, eh?" I felt myself grinning stupidly, tingling with pride. "It sounds wonderful, Grandpa." It did. And as we sped back home in the rattling old bakkie, hooting wildly at dawdling cars, meandering donkey carts, and dozing goats, everything seemed wonderful. "Land of opportunity," yelled Grandpa, turning to me and hurriedly swerving back onto the road. "If you've got vision, you can do anything here. Democratic! Peaceful! Untapped! Look at all that space."

Far ahead of us, swathed in a haze of heat waves, the black strip of road melted into the flat bush. Far beyond that, at some elusive point, the bush became endless, cloudless blue sky. Only a few black bird flecks and the glowing white sphere of sun gave perspective to the gigantic expanse. Hot, dry, and unforgiving still. But with fast cool air buffeting sticky skin and the world whizzing past, inimitably wonderful too. Istared until my eyes watered in the brightness and the dry air.

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.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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
From the Publisher
"[A] beautiful and loving portrait."
- The Boston Globe

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143143062
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
04/10/2008
Edition description:
Unabridged
Product dimensions:
5.46(w) x 5.68(h) x 1.57(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"[A] beautiful and loving portrait."
- The Boston Globe

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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