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TWENTY CHICKENS FOR A SADDLE by Robyn Scott

TWENTY CHICKENS FOR A SADDLE

The Story of an African Childhood

By Robyn Scott

Pub Date: April 10th, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59420-159-2
Publisher: Penguin Press

Vigorous recollections of a youth spent among “profoundly fringy” adults “in the middle of nowhere.”

Scott moved with her idiosyncratic parents from New Zealand to Botswana in 1987, when she was almost seven years old. In minute detail, she sketches the landscape, the people she encountered and the innumerable problems that beset her family. She paints her wanderlust-stricken parents as singular human beings with a deep desire to avoid mundanity at any cost. Her father was “an accidental doctor”: Cape Town University in his native South Africa didn’t offer courses in his preferred field, veterinary medicine, so he had to settle for ministering to human beings. His wife, who grew up in Botswana, shared his belief in alternative medicine and home schooling. Together they roved from London to Cape Town to Auckland before settling with their three children in Botswana. Right next door was inimitable Grandpa Ivor, a World War II veteran of the South African Air Force, pressed into service to fly his son to the area’s remote bush clinics until Dad got a pilot’s license. Granny Joan and Grandpa Terry, Mum’s parents, also played key roles in the author’s life. Following some brief passages explaining her parents’ globetrotting exploits, Scott unleashes astonishing stories about her Botswana childhood: Their first residence was a dilapidated cowshed; the cow died from eating plastic bags; her dad sometimes drank his own urine, etc. After the family moved to their own farm in the early ’90s, home schooling gave way to a conventional education, which the author describes as “boring.” (It would be, compared to her family.) The book’s most moving passages delineate her tireless father’s heroic adventures as an ill-equipped doctor. They range from an extraordinary tale about a man who somehow inserted a ten-centimeter-long snake’s tail into his penis to accounts of the author’s mercurial, ceaselessly inventive work with AIDS patients.

A colorful, occasionally shocking fish-out-of-water memoir.