Monday, June 27, 2016

Wildflower by Mark Seal

I broke the cardinal rule.  I judged a book by its cover.  I walked by a shelf where Wildflower was facing out and I did a double take.  I was instantly smitten.  I'm a sucker for a girl in a sundress and when you add in the gorgeous locale and that she's being nuzzled by a baby elephant; it was all too much.  So, I started this book for the silliest, shallowest of reasons but my dumb luck won out because the woman on the cover was an incredible person who led a remarkable life.

If you know the name Joan Root, it is probably from the nature documentaries she and her husband made in the 1970s.  Joan was of a generation raised in Africa but of English derivation.  She grew up in a beautiful and wild natural setting and she ended up marrying one of the more wild elements of nature - Alan Root.  Alan was loud and careening and was just as likely to be bitten by a snake as he was to fly his plane through a tiny canyon just to give his passenger a scare.  He was the opposite of Joan in every way -- except for their love of nature.  And their love of nature (and complimentary personal natures) helped them create countless documentaries for British television.

The reader comes away from Wildflower feeling as though there were two loves of Joan Root's life:  Alan Root and the African countryside.  While one of those loves slipped away from her (dalliances is probably the most polite word to use), she spent the second half of her life defending animals and the unsullied landscape with everything she was.  She spent her time and money trying to prevent an ecological collapse near her home and she was murdered for it.  I'm not doing a great job of describing how impressive Joan Root was or how well Mark Seal put this book together.  There's too much to include in this review and just now thinking back on it so many images come flashing through my mind that I have trouble getting across what I would like to say.  So I'll say it as simply as I can, Joan Root was a phenomenal person and this book gave me a fantastically vivid sense of her.  I haven't done it justice but I promise you it's worth your time.

If you like Wildflower you might like The Man in the Rockefeller Suit also by Mark Seal.  You might also be interested in Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen which is about a similar group of English settlers in Africa, just a generation earlier.  All of these are available from the Virginia Beach Public Library.

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