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Posts Tagged ‘Christina Lamb’

Shella 20th of April 2011

A review of “The Africa House” by Christina Lamb

“In the last decade of the British Empire Stewart Gore-Browne built himself a feudal paradise in Northern Rhodesia, a sprawling country estate modelled on the finest homes of England, complete with uniform servants, daily muster parades, rose gardens and lavish dinners finished off with vintage port in the library.”

At the café close to the Internet centre at Shella I saw a pile of books for sale. One of them was Karen Blixen’s book about her African farm, and another one was a biography about the life of Stewart Gore-Browne which I bought and started to read at the very spot and I continued reading for two days and have now finished the book. When you read something which you find interesting it is difficult to finish the book because you know that you will miss it, and that is the case with an excellent book like this. It is like being separated from a good friend living far away.

This book fascinated me immediately. I read on the back of it that Christina Lamb is a British foreign correspondent, who has visited and lived both in Africa, Asia and South America. She has built her story about Gore-Browne on literature but mainly on archive studies, letters and interviews with relatives and other people who were close to the main character like workers at the estate. And she has indeed succeeded in getting very close to Gordon-Browne and his family members. In the introduction she writes:

“The date etched on the heavy oak front door was 1923, but the house looked much older, it’s sloping tiled roof and arched terraces battered by the African sun and rains. A magnificent three-storey pink bricked mansion, with a tower in the centre, a reed tiled roof, and a line of elegant arches supporting a first-floor terrace from which a Union Jack fluttered limply. Rising behind it, a granite hill provided a dramatic backdrop. Part Tuscan manor house, part grand English ancestral home, and all completely unexpected and out of place in this remote corner of the African bush. Surely, only a madman or a megalomaniac could have built such a place.”

In the introduction the writer continues to tell the readers how she first got to know about the house and how she came to visit the place in the company of one of the grandchildren of Stewart Gore-Browne.

The story is about a man with a vision and his vision is to build a home at a beautiful place in northern Rhodesia, close to a lake full of crocodiles by the name of Shiwa Ngandu, which means Lake of the Royal Crocodiles. Even Mr. Livingstone had visited this place “and one of these very crocodiles had devoured Livingstone’s little dog Chitane…”

Gore-Browne was born at the end of the 19th century and came to northern Rhodesia as a young man and that was when his dream about a manor was born. He participated in WWI and thereafter he returned to Africa. He came from an aristocratic family and had been studying at one of the expensive British schools for boys, Harrow. He was not a rich man, but quite well off because of his aunt Ethel. The lady was his father’s sister and ever since he was a boy he had a very close relation to this relative, who was twenty years older than him and married to a much older man. The couple lived at a very big estate in England. There is no doubt that she was not only wealthy but also very beautiful with hair of the same colour as strawberries. Whenever Gore-Browne was short of money she sent him what he needed and she helped him through her whole life. She died when she was over 90 and Stewart Gore-Browne was present at this sad occasion to say good-bye to her.

This aunt was the love of Stewart Gore-Browne and he always hoped that the two of them one day would live together. Almost daily he sat down in his library and wrote a letter to his aunt. But when he had settled down and started to build Shiwa – the name of the manor – life took another turn. When visiting England in the beginning of his 40s he met Lorna, a school girl of 19 and the daughter of his first love in life, a girl who had left him to get married to another man. Mother and daughter had the same name and Lorna was an orphan because both her father and mother had died so she was living with different relatives whereof many were unwilling to care for her. Despite the 25 years of difference of age the couple got married and Lorna went to live at Shiwa and in a few years time they had two girls. Lorna Katherine and Angela.

Lamb describes the marriage as unhappy and soon Lorna goes back to England to study agriculture. She leaves her children behind and creates a life of her own. After some time she returns to Shiva but leaves again and finally Stewart Gore-Browne agrees to a divorce.

The biography is about a great personality, about a man who is passionate and determined, with visions – not only for himself and his family but also for the country where he lives, for the people of Africa and their future.

The book is very fascinating and it is difficult to stop reading. However, it is not an “Easy reader” – on the contrary – I would say, because there are many names of animals, flowers, trees that one might not know. 

The book describes also how that part of northern Rhodesia became Zambia, how the people of the country came to power, the struggle for independence and how Kenneth Kaunda became the first president of Zambia.

I read the “Afterwords” and noted that one of the grandchildren of Gore-Browne has taken over Shiwa which was abandoned for ten years or more and today it is a hotel with safaris as main attraction. At the same time it is run as a farm like once upon a time.

If you want to read a real good book I sincerely recommend you to try to find “The Africa house” written by Christina Lamb. You will not regret it.

 

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