Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood by Robyn Scott

I enjoy two kinds of memoirs. The first is the kind that resonates with my own experiences. When I recognize the similarities in my life and that of the author, I feel the importance of my own story and often find new perspectives to contemplate. I may understand my family, friends, and myself better. The second kind describes a life very unlike my own. From reading such a book, I learn of other places, cultures, and aspirations, challenging me to envision other ways, making me sympathetic to the world as a whole. Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood by Robyn Scott is mostly the second kind of memoir.

I say mostly, because there is always some commonality. We all breathe, eat, sleep, and desire a good life. We all have families. But the particulars of Scott's childhood memoir are far different from my own. She was born in New Zealand and spent most of childhood in Botswana, where her father was a flying doctor skilled in alternative medicine. She was home schooled because her mother disliked the routine and repetition of regular schools. With her brother and sister, the African landscape was their primary school room; they swan in sight of crocodiles, learned to watch for snakes, and rescued injured animals. When she wanted a new saddle for riding their free-spirited horses, her father suggested that she raise free range chickens to sell their eggs to earn the funds. Living in what was a converted cow barn, her unorthodox family was unlike other white families who lived in cookie cutter houses.

To her credit, Scott is not self-centered in her memoir, as she devotes much of Twenty Chickens for a Saddle to stories about her parents, siblings, grandparents, and three nations of Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. In fifteen years, he witnessed black/white relationships, deteriorating economies, and the spread of AIDS, as well as her parents' struggles with broken dreams. She recounts the time with much wit (despite her father's claim that she had none), almost always tempering a sad story with a funny one. Readers who enjoy the Botswana of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books may also enjoy Twenty Chickens for a Saddle.

Scott, Robyn. Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood. Penguin Press, 2008. 453p. ISBN 9781594201592.

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