NELLIE: Letters from Africa by Nellie Grant

NELLIE: Letters from Africa

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Novelist and Africana writer Elspeth Huxley has fashioned a portrait of her feisty mother Nellie Grant from Nellie's letters (1933-1977) plus an introductory memoir and some running continuity. ""'We tried again' more or less sums up Nellie's life in Africa,"" she writes--which just about skirts understatement. Born comfortably to a railroad director in Victorian England, married young to the charming but unsettled Jos, Nellie goes to British East Africa in 1912; and hers, in essence, is the story of claiming a land, losing it to nature, reclaiming it, and losing it again (this time to history). A marvelously sunny-tempered woman (her description of a primitive air journey across Egypt in the Thirties is as appalling as it is hilarious), she took up the slack left by impractical husband Jos, who would contract emphysema in the Congo during World War II and die soon after. Nellie, on her own, raised the following on her Njoro farm: chickens, almonds, cattle, spinning wool, white mice, angora rabbits, pyrethrum, pheasants--this through war and Mau Mau. Once forced out after Kenyan independence, like the other British settlers, she moved to Portugal and had her eyes on cottage-industries of dried flowers and puppets as she turned 80. The stiff-upper-lip and put-out-more-flags Englishness of this old gal approaches parody (if you don't think of Margaret Rutherford as you read, you've been napping). Right along, though, Nellie is a worlds-apart contrast to her one-time countrywoman, Isak Dinesen (whose husband Blor Blixen makes a brief appearance in a letter, hiding from his creditors); it's a matter of different styles of bravery mostly--Nellie's practical, Dinesen's spiritual. But for anyone who admires uncomplicated pluck and enjoys a certain fustiness, here you go.

Pub Date: May 12th, 1981
Publisher: Morrow