JOY ADAMSON by Caroline Cass


Behind the Mask
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 Kenyan writer Cass rips the mask off Joy Adamson of Born Free fame to reveal a woman of monstrous flaws, considerable talents, and a redeeming generosity. The second daughter of an ill-matched Austrian couple who soon divorced, Adamson was raised in Vienna by a beloved grandmother. There, in the years between the wars, she studied music, then flitted ``from one new artistic endeavor to another.'' Stunningly beautiful, she had a number of affairs, the most serious of which led to an illegal abortion that nearly killed her. Her Jewish first husband, worried about the Nazis, sent her to East Africa in 1936 to scout out the possibility of settling there. It was a fateful trip, for during it Adamson not only met the botanist who would be her second husband but became enthralled by Africa itself. Divorcing her first husband, she settled in Kenya, married the botanist, and accompanied him throughout the country collecting rare plants. Adamson, though difficult and demanding, proved herself a real trooper in the wild, and her paintings of plant specimens earned her a considerable reputation as an artist. But congenitally restless in bed and elsewhere, she soon was having further affairs, a 1942 visit to the remote camp of naturalist George Adamson leading to her third marriage. Cass, who knew Joy, describes the raising of Elsa the lion cub; the writing of Born Free; the realities of the Adamsons' marriage--more a bruising brawl than a love-fest; Joy's murder, probably by a servant she'd typically mistreated; her great generosity to conservation; and Joy herself, who, despite all her faults, ``remained passionately in love with life--a firm believer that, through animals, man would discover his soul.'' Cass, gossipy but fair-minded, shows Adamson to have been as ruthless and predatory as her beloved lions but also--sometimes--as splendid. (Color and b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-297-81141-X
Page count: 236pp
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1993