AN AMERICAN FAMILY ON THE AFRICAN FRONTIER by Mary E. Bradford

AN AMERICAN FAMILY ON THE AFRICAN FRONTIER

The Letters of Frederick Russell Burnham, 1893-1896

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A poignant and candid account of pioneering in the dying days of the African frontier, by members of an American family, including its head, legendary war hero and adventurer Frederick Russell Burnham (author of the noted memoirs Scouting on Two Continents). Alert to today's sensibilities, the editors (both on the faculty of the West Virginia Institute of Technology) include a prologue setting the actions and opinions of the letter-writers in context--during the 1890's, Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest was in its ascendancy--but they then let the correspondents tell their own stories. The result is a gripping tale of high adventure, bitter sorrows, and even greater dreams: ``You ought to hear the air castles we build almost every day,'' Burnham's wife, Blanche, writes as she and her husband trek by wagon into the region that's today known as Zimbabwe. Burnham, a former cowboy and prospector, had decided to take advantage of the gold fever sweeping southern Africa as men like Cecil Rhodes were busily expanding British rule. As a pioneer of the old school, more interested in finding a new Eden than great wealth, Burnham is frank about British hypocrisy, but once he reaches the Rhodesian city of Bulawayo, he finds himself involved not only in defending the new country but in advising Rhodes's Chartered Company. But, here, politics plays second fiddle to the family's personal story-- a story told best by Blanche, a woman of great pluck who vividly describes the rigors of trekking over open country; the difficulties of being left alone with her young son as her husband fought or prospected; daily life in a foreign environment; and the tragedy of losing her baby daughter to fever. This loss, together with Burnham's diminished financial prospects, led in 1896 to the family's departure from Africa. A remarkable look--consistently observant, thoughtful, and frank--by a remarkable American family at a turbulent time in African history: Pioneer writing at its best. (Photos)

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1994
ISBN: 1-879373-66-1
Page count: 326pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1993