OUT IN THE MIDDAY SUN: My Kenya by Elspeth Huxley


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Octogenerian novelist, biographer, and traveloguist Huxley, who in The Flame Trees of Thika and The Mottled Lizard chronicled her halcyon childhood in colonial Africa, here records her adult life as a gentlewoman farmer in Kenya in the 20's and 30's. Excerpts, with commentary, from a diary kept during Huxley's 1933 return voyage to Africa after an eight-year absence open these memoirs. Here, as throughout, she evokes a bygone era primarily through its rich crop of personalities: Dr. Roland Burkitt, for instance, a Nairobi-based surgeon who joined Huxley on the sail from England to Kenya, a paradigm of classic British eccentricity whose favorite entree was snake and whose favorite cure was bleeding, and who dealt with malaria by having patients sit ""naked in a tub in the draughtiest place available."" Other memorable characters sketched through her tightly focused novelist's eye include Isak Dinesen's husband, Baron Bror von Blixen-Fineche (known to Huxley as ""Blix""); the Prince of Wales, who ""would abandon the chase after animals to chase almost any personable young human female who crossed his path,"" and, in an especially vivid portrait, Jomo Kenyatta and his tribe, the Kikyu. Beyond this colorful gallery, however, looms always the lush, sometimes forbidding backdrop of Africa's then-almost primeval wilderness, a care fully evoked cornucopia of rampant nature, inhabited by animals galore (Huxley, oddly, seems particularly intrigued by bats), great rainstorms, summer heat almost beyond endurance, and the ever-present threats of disease and famine. Huxley winds up with a brief account of her return to Kenya in 1983, when she found that--no surprise--the Kenya of her past was nearly gone under modernity's onslaught, and that, unexpectedly, this seemed right and just. A charming, if antiquated, exercise in well-bred nostalgia.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1987
Publisher: Viking