Feb 28, 2016

The Searching Spirit

by Joy Adamson

This is her autobiography. I did not know much of Joy Adamson's life before this- only the details of her work with african lions, cheetahs and leopards. I first read Born Free when I was a teen, then the rest of her Elsa books, then one about a cheetah she raised, and a later book about a leopard. This book covers all that time period, but instead of discussing much experience with the animals- sensibly, as she wrote an entire book about each one- tells of publicity work that followed each successful release. I found this plenty interesting. Learned a few details about the cheetahs I hadn't known- since I've only read the first volume about Pippa and not yet its sequel. The book ends rather abruptly, just when she had acquired the orphaned leopard to raise.

But! Aside from all that putting it into context for myself. It is mostly about her childhood in Austria, how her large family estate was dissolved during war times, how she came to Africa and finally met George Adamson. His work as game warden at first unsettled her- he often had to shoot predators that were threatening people or their livestock- but she took it in stride and did her own share, I'd say- spending a large amount of time collecting specimens of plants, insects and birds to send to museums. I had forgotten that she was an accomplished artist- she tells how she first began painting indigenous plants, particularly wildflowers, and became well-known for it. She also undertook an immense project painting portraits of native tribes- men as well as women- in their traditional or ceremonial clothing, taking pains to be sure the items worn were authentic. To make a visual record of cultures that were quickly vanishing. These portraits became famous too. While accompanying George on work safaris, she often went along to search for new plants or tribesmen to paint. Sometimes went on her own travels to do so as well. The descriptions of all the various places she travelled to across Africa really intrigued me, because I found many things echoed from my prior book- Peter Beard described some of the same tribal groups and locales. Joy also tells of many adventures they had, briefly mentions some of the wild animals they rescued or raised as orphans, and describes the stress she suffered while doing hectic book tours after the astonishing popularity of Born Free.

I did not know until long after I had read her first books about the lions, that her marriage suffered a lot and she was apparently a very difficult person to get along with, perhaps even mentally ill or autistic. It's to her credit that in this book she has nothing ill to say of George, in fact she barely mentions him (perhaps that is telling). I'm very curious to read her husband's own account My Pride and Joy- and also several other biographies I've since found. But also a bit wary to do so, as I've long admired this woman for her groundbreaking work with wildlife, and I know the other books don't always show her in a positive light... Interestingly, Joy mentioned in this book that when she wrote the first account of Elsa, she was advised by a friend to avoid anthropomorphizing the lion so that people would realize she was telling the truth and take her book seriously. Perhaps that's why the account has always felt rather dry to me, just so many facts related. Still, they're incredible stories.

Rating: 3/5     244 pages, 1978

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