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Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood Hardcover – March 27, 2008

47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1987, Scott's parents ended a peripatetic decade through South Africa, England, and New Zealand, and returned to Botswana with seven-year-old Robyn and her younger siblings. Her mother is a dedicated homeschooler (Children learn best in unstructured situations, when they don't know they're learning); her father is a doctor, who often serves more than one hundred patients a day. Grandpa Ivor, a former ace bush pilot, whose later ventures include coffin making, and Grandpa Terry, the personnel manager of a mine, are both great storytellers. Taut and coherent vignettes breathe life into the characters, and Scott's own storytelling skill renders childhood ventures (breaking a horse, falling into a thornbush, distributing Christmas bags) with remarkable immediacy and liveliness. There are snakes, metaphorical and real, though the former rarely intrude upon the child's idyllic world. The real snakes provide moments where we never knew what we'd learn, only that it would be interesting. A venomous puff adder serves as anatomy lesson, and her mother turns the death of a juvenile brown house snake into an exhilarating philosophical lecture. Happy stories are hard to tell, but Scott succeeds in this engaging recreation of a child's Botswana, apolitical and Eden-like. She has no sordid revelations, no shocking surprises—just a raconteur's talent for making any story she tells interesting. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

For a white child in Botswana on the borders between South Africa and Zimbabwe in the 1980s and 1990s, home is an adventure in paradise, with horses, snakes, crocodiles, baobab trees, starry nights, and more. Growing up “on the fringe,” Robyn and her siblings are homeschooled by their independent mother, who argues all the time with her physician husband, who flies around to rural clinics and argues with his eccentric dad. Robyn’s dream is to go to school, but when she finally does in neighboring Bulawayo, it is not what she expected, including the raging racism. Immensely privileged as they are, her family is not prejudiced (Mum hates being called Madam), and they are aware of the power struggles and disasters, whether it is the diamond boom (for a very few) or the devastation of AIDS (for many). But nature is the story in this idyllic memoir, and not as background. Out of Africa fans will be enthralled. --Hazel Rochman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First edition (March 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201595
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201592
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,512,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Philip Bevis on April 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Arundel Books is an Independent Bookstore in Seattle. Our staff believes that this is the BEST Non-Fiction Debut of 2008.

Robyn Scott's Twenty Chickens for a Saddle is an astonishing debut. Set in Botswana, it is her account of growing up with one of the most wonderfully mad families you are likely to meet, whether in real life or between the covers of a book.

She has a remarkable ear for language, and a descriptive prose style that brings the bush country of Botswana, with all its flora, fauna, and people, to magically madcap life. Twenty Chickens for a Saddle brings to mind such authors as James Herriot and Augusten Burroughs.

This is our pick as the best non-fiction debut for 2008. It is insightful, inspiring, and heartwarming. Her parents, grandparents, siblings, neighbors, and the countryside surrounding them, are truly brought to life. Given Miss Scott's parents decidedly non-traditional approach to child rearing, this book will offer sustenance to parents of home schoolers everywhere.

Whether you like to read about travel, foreign cultures and peoples, families, education, natural history, biographies, accounts of coming-of-age, Africa, science, Horatio Algeresque narratives, women's studies, health and medicine, flying... or just like a darned good book, Twenty Chickens for a Saddle is for you.

If this truly remarkable book is any indication, Miss Scott has an astonishing career ahead of her, and we are looking forward to her future efforts. Make no mistake, Twenty Chickens for a Saddle stands as an equal with the very best non-fiction published by any author in 2008.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Graham Surrey on June 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
After finishing this book I was left with a rather strange feeling of nostalgia for someone else's childhood. In part I think that's a testament to the quality of the writing, as the setting of rural Botswana, and the many colourful characters encountered in the book, are rendered with a vividness and eye for detail such that you almost feel like you've been there.

The other aspect was a recognition that the type of childhood described in the book is all too rare. What kid wouldn't want to grow up in Africa being free to ride horses through the bush, keep snakes and monkeys as pets, and swim in rivers with crocodiles?

The darker side of life in southern Africa is referred to as well, with entrenched racism, the looming economic collapse in Zimbabwe and the spectre of the AIDS epidemic described in anecdotes that bring home the personal impact of these issues far more effectively than statistics and news reports can.

Overall this book serves as a great memoir of a unique childhood and a window into an Africa that many never get to see.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Susan Golden on September 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read Robyn Scott's book when it first appeared in hardback and have since recommended it and given it as a gift to many. I still think about her energetic, idealistic, idiosyncratic parents and siblings and the marvelous freedom they had to follow their dreams in Botswana. Scott not only draws unforgettable characters, she also portrays the beauty and promise of one of the true democracies of Africa with great affection, humor, and insight. Her memoir has both the advantage of looking back with vivid memories from a relatively young age, and the maturity to appeal to all age readers. I think this is a magical read and plan to reread it.
By the way, there is a new mystery series set in Botswana by Michael Stanley (two books so far) that are great fun and also have a wonderful sense of place.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bridget on June 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. I am so excited to see that there is another writer on a par with Alexandra Fuller. I enjoyed Robyn's descriptions of her life growing up in Botswana - she is incredibly funny. I especially liked her horseback adventures and her description of the ticks on her horse as being the "welcoming committee" was hilarious. Each time I picked up the book, I felt transported back to my own African childhood. I really respect the way the author writes without ego or judgement. I will definitely buy this book on audio CD and wait in anticipation for her next book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By E. Joyce on June 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you enjoy Alexander McCall Smith's books based in Botswana, you will probably enjoy this book very much. It tells of a young girl growing up in a rather eccentric family in Botswana. Her father is a doctor who works in a number of small clinics, and her mother chooses to home-school, albeit in a very unconventional fashion, her three children. Their adventures (even when they weren't looking for adventure) will keep you laughing. I look forward to the next novel by this author!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kenvee B on June 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Robyn has a beautiful descriptive style, painting such vivid pictures that I almost feel I've been to Africa. Some parts have an almost lyrical beauty, while others are deeply depressing or thigh-slapping hysterical. Her parents, brother, sister, and grandparents -- especially the absolute character of Grandpa Ivor -- are so intriguing you want each of them to have a book of their own by the end. I absolutely recommend this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Cate on December 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved reading this amusing book on an intersting childhood growing up in a changing Africa. Twenty Chickens for a Saddle is delightfully descriptive and a well written memoir of life in Botswana in the 1990s. I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys travel and cultural literature.
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