Sensitive chronicle of a complex man who came to Africa to found his own kingdom, built a castle for the woman he loved, and ruled his subjects with a firm but benevolent hand.
Born in 1873, Stewart Gore-Browne was a Victorian shaped by the ideals of his time: service to country, the betterment of those less fortunate, romantic love for a perfect, unattainable woman. Educated at Harrow, he spent most of his time with his father’s younger sister Ethel and her wealthy, much older husband Hugh. Intelligent and beautiful, Ethel inspired a lifelong devotion in Gore-Browne, who wrote to her regularly, confided in her, and dreamed that she would someday come to live in the “Africa house” he built for her. In early 1914, seconded to an Anglo-Belgian Boundary Commission as a British officer, Gore-Browne first saw Shiwa Ngandu, the “Lake of the Royal Crocodiles” in what is today northern Zambia, and immediately recognized it as the kingdom he had dreamed of. World War I intervened, but in 1920 he was back in Africa, the owner of 23,000 acres, at work on the house and the model village he had so long planned. Food, furniture, and all other necessities had to travel by land and canoe more than 400 miles from the nearest rail halt, and Lamb, foreign-affairs correspondent of London’s Sunday Times, vividly details how extraordinary Gore-Browne’s overly ambitious achievement was. In a place where lions and crocodile regularly ate the unwary and leopards peeked in the windows, he built a three-story building, “part Tuscan manor house, part grand English ancestral home,” surrounded by gardens and orchards. Lamb (The Sewing Circles of Herat, not reviewed) chronicles his unhappy marriage to a much younger woman, his failed agricultural ventures, and the house’s evolution into a famous landmark. She also describes Gore-Browne’s commitment to Zambia’s independence and to African education, as well as his friendship with the newly independent nation’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda.
A cautionary but sympathetic story of a man obsessed, though less perniciously than most.