A FALLING STAR: A True Story of Romance in the Wilds of Africa by Betty Leslie-Melville

A FALLING STAR: A True Story of Romance in the Wilds of Africa

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KIRKUS REVIEW

After writing five volumes with her late husband, Jock Leslie-Melville, about their life together in Kenya, Betty Leslie-Melville triumphs in her first solo work, a commemoration of their marriage. Betty, who had just finished shooting a documentary in Tanganyika on leprosy, was separated from her first husband (who was on safari) when she met tall, lean, handsome Jock on the beach of the Indian Ocean in Kenya. He was recovering from cerebral meningitis and wore his arm, as he would throughout his life, in a leather sling because of an earlier bout with polio. He also was divorcing after a three-month marriage. As they traded life stories, it was love at first sight, and sealed by the same wish made by both when a star fell over the ocean. They move to Jock's farm, not far from Karen Blixen's, at the foot of the Ngong hills; eventually the couple winds up owning all the Karen Blixen furniture--the baroness had given it to Jock's mother. Later, Meryl Streep, making Out of Africa, acts as bridesmaid at the marriage of Betty's son. The Leslie-Melvilles become famous as a result of many years on the lecture circuit, their books together, appearances on US talk shows, their running of nonshooting safaris for such celebrities as Marlon Brando, Lee Remick, James Stewart and Richard Chamberlain, who turn up here. The book divides between wonderful local color and animal stories, the Leslie-Melvilles visiting a wild gorilla family, raising baby giraffes in their own backyard; and then Jock's brain tumor. The tumor itself is not fatal but radiation therapy destroys the link between his frontal lobe and brain center, and chemotherapy damages his immune system. Betty does not tell Jock that his is a terminal case, and she reneges year after year on fulfilling a promise she made with him that she would help him die should he become a vegetable. Instead, in a lasting delusion, he becomes Napoleon. Jock's is a strange case, his brain damage leaving him cheerful and optimistic through the worst, rock-bottom physical decay. He dies at 47, looking 80, a charmer to the final moment, his great spirit unknowingly staying Betty's death-hand. Melting all the way, with many warm little gushes around the heart.

Pub Date: May 29th, 1986
Publisher: Macmillan