SPEAK TO THE EARTH: Wanderings and Reflections among Elephants and Mountains by Vivienne de Watteville

SPEAK TO THE EARTH: Wanderings and Reflections among Elephants and Mountains

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Clear a space on the shelf next to the works of Isak Dinesen, Elspeth Huxley and Beryl Markham. This sensitively perceived and superbly written portrayal (reissued from the 1935 edition) of life in British Africa after WW I can stand beside these authors' better-known reminiscences without apology. The daughter of a Swiss bon vivant and his British-born wife, de Watteville had accompanied her father on a specimen-collecting safari to Kenya and Tanganyika four years before her present narrative begins. During that expedition, the elder de Watteville was attacked and killed by lions. Twenty-four-year-old Vivienne buried her father and carried on his collecting, returning to Africa, as she says in her opening paragraphs, ""to make friends with the animals."" Traveling alone, she does just that and learns in the process the strengths and satisfactions to be found in solitude. ""Living in civilization,"" she points out, ""is like. . .going for a walk in gloves."" De Watteville's prose moves with the grace of a panther, sinuous yet powerful. Her evocations of nature capture with startling immediacy not only the visual beauty around her but the sounds and scents, the tastes and textures, as well. It is in the descriptions of her reactions to this world, however, that de Watteville truly excels. The young woman discovers a comforting sense of identification with nature during her months alone. Nor is de Watteville concerned only with rhinos and reveries. Her self-deprecating sense of humor can be delicious, as when she recalls an evening in which she attempted to outroar a pride of lions, or her description of an elephant ""twisting his trunk around each sheaf of grass--as one might twist macaroni on a fork."" Sure to be read--and reread--with pleasure for years to come.

Pub Date: June 29th, 1987
Publisher: Norton