BOOK REVIEW: Thrilling memoir of emigrant’s exploits in Kenya

Saturday November 04 2017

Susie Kelly takes readers from five star hotels to luxury tents in the wilderness, down to poverty in Nairobi’s slums. PHOTO| FILE

The long-awaited sequel to Susie Kelly’s US Amazon Top 40 ranking memoir, I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry, described by BookBub as A Child Called It meets Out Of Africa, is this stunning memoir of a woman’s escapades in Kenya. Filled with candid humour and insights, an authentic tale captures the incredible coming-of-age journey.

More than 40 years after leaving Kenya, Susie unexpectedly finds herself returning with husband Terry. She sets off for a holiday touring the game reserves, but what Susie finds far exceeds expectations.

In this, her seventh, travelogue, she takes readers from five star hotels to luxury tents in the wilderness, down to poverty in Nairobi’s slums. Written with characteristic laid back style, this will appeal to anybody who has lived in the magical land Susie regards primarily as ‘home’. Ernest Hemingway wrote: “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up unhappy.”

Susie Kelly emigrated from London to Kenya aged seven. She endured a convent education until being expelled for refusing to spend Saturday mornings making doll’s clothes. Horse riding was much more preferable.

In 1975, Susie returned to Britain with a wrongly matched husband, and two children. Since then, Susie acquired Terry, a fine son-in-law, four ‘grandies’, and, a different abode in France.

Here she shares life with a menagerie of animals which help her think to develop books like Best Foot Forward and Two Steps Backward.


“Although I left in 1971, Kenya will always be a huge part of me. It must be true for thousands of us who live there, no matter what has been dealt us in the meanwhile. Have a look on social media platforms - you can almost taste the nostalgia of those constantly monitoring situations. For those unable to return, it is best to content  yourselves with memories. A photo or note of music makes us cry automatically, upon reminiscing. Take nothing for granted,” she says.

Africa Smiled is a poem written by Bridget Dore which was apparently written as a tribute to Nelson Mandela: You cannot leave Africa. It is always inside your head.

Our rivers run in currents with the swirl of thumbprints and drumbeats, counting out a pulse, coastline and silhouette of the soul. So, Africa smiled a little when you left.

“In 2015, my old friend, Vivien Prince, invited me to join one of her As You Like It Safari’s. Sharing this news with friends, they actually warned me not to indulge in such a dangerous expedition where poisonous snakes, diseases, carnage, and, worse, are waiting. Imagine, this advice emanated from people who had never even been to Kenya. They only repeated western media coverage, which, for useless reasons, prefer to portray the country in negative lights. This obviously discourages easily influenced visitors, giving out false impressions, and depriving them of golden wildlife/scenic/hospitable, opportunities,” Ms Kelly says.

She continues: “They will never witness crossings of the Mara by vast herds on their migration, watch elephants bathing in marshes nor see the sun rising on Mount Kenya’s slopes. Such a sad loss. Add that nonsense to the effect on valuable tourism trade, which millions depend upon as welfare. It is common knowledge that revisiting a place you once loved, should be avoided, because of changes. I found many such intrusions, where bumpy roads are replaced by tarmac and massive inflows of traffic, rather than bicycles. The quiet suburbs have been pumped with housing estates of monumental proportions. Even mountainous snow has noticeably diminished.”

“However, the essence of Kenya is changeless. Children exhuberantly wave spontaneously. Service is eloquently efficient, and exquisite food is delivered sincerely. People are mostly always cordial. Climate is proportionately kind. Landscape is unmatchable with plenty diversity. Please let my book, Safari Ants, Baggy Pants and Elephants, touch readers in such a way that they will regard Kenya as a safe zone to visit,” she concludes.