I discovered this author and this series via the Historical Novel Society, for which I review independently published books, and their to-review list is always an interesting source of books that I might otherwise never have heard of but (usually) go on to enjoy very much.
I volunteered to review numbers 1 and 2 in the series, The Elephants’ Child and The Lion Mountains, and enjoyed these so much that I went on to buy the prequel, The Snaking River, written after the other two, hence it’s labelled 0.
Gorgeous Evocation of Three Exotic Nations
Each is an affectionate, thinly-veiled and slightly fictionalised memoir of the author’s family life in colonial employment, in Burma, then India, then Sierra Leone.
M L Eaton writes lyrically of each country, its people and its natural environment, and in each book there is a mystical element, in which the young hero (in book 0 based on her brother Trevor) or heroine (based on herself in books 1 and 2) absorbs and retains something of the spirit and belief system of the country.
Touching Family Portrait
The portrait of the parents, seen through a child’s eyes, is poignant and sensitive, conveying effectively the triumphs and trials of colonial life. The trials are particularly marked in books 1 and 2, which take place after the Second World War has taken its toll on both parents, diminishing their mental and physical health for ever. Although written from a child’s perspective, they are not really children’s books, although I think teens would enjoy them, perhaps identifying more with the children, while adult readers are likely to empathise more with the parents, admiring their courage and sense of adventure.
Reading them in the order they were written, I noticed the writing becoming more assured and lyrical as the series progressed.
Akin to Elspeth Huxley’s Classic African Memoirs
Although they were presented to the HNS as novels, I read them in the spirit of memoirs (which the author also describes them as), and they put me in mind of Elspeth Huxley’s classic African childhood memoir, The Flame Trees of Thika.
I highly recommend them to anyone who enjoyed that book, who is curious to learn about colonial family life, or who likes to travel to exotic regions of the world without leaving their fireside. I suspect I’ll be giving sets of these books as gifts to friends and family in future, to share the joy.
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