I seldom delve into non-fiction, but I did tell the story of my coming of age in Africa, and put together a collection of essays on, life, the universe and everything.
When I was 10, I was taken from my quiet, safe corner of old Europe and deposited into an exotic new world. Africa, at once breathtaking and soul-destroying, from the snow-capped mountains and teeming game plains of Kenya and Tanzania to the haunted hunger-stalked dustbowls of Ethiopia and the Sudan – the hideous and the magnificent have always gone hand in hand there.
Nobody who has once set foot on the soil of Africa will ever be quite free of it again. When I first went there, I was young enough to be molded by it. I instinctively understand things that people with altruistic but often misguided intentions spend years fail to: it takes an African attitude to deal with something that is at once both immeasurably ancient and utterly childish. I was an African child, picking up thoughts, feelings and attitudes left lying about like discarded skins of poisonous snakes.
If I returned there today, I’d recognize it easily enough, but the rediscovery would be painful. Other people now live in my Houses in Africa. Going back to find my memory of things changed… would be as if a part of me had vanished together with it.
I keep the dust of Africa, therefore, as a memory in my heart.
Human lives are full of moments, bright or dark – moments when you feel your breath being taken away by the beauty of a starlit sky, or feel your heart being broken by the passing of a beloved pet, or being surprised by joy, or falling into a memory.
There are moments in which you reflect on the things that you do, on the person who you are, on the life that you have lived, or are living, or yearn to live. These are moments which are as unique in themselves as every individual whom they touch is in themselves unique – and yet, also, you glance sideways at the moments of others and you recognize them as a shared experience.
That is what this collection of essays is about – sharing those moments. A writer reflects on the things that have touched her and shaped her existence – and invites the world in, to sit at the fireside with her, and share triumphs and tragedies, to share hopes, and dreams, and wishes, and memories.