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Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood [Paperback]

Robyn Scott
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

18 May 2009
When Robyn Scott was six years old her parents abruptly exchanged the tranquil pastures of New Zealand for a converted cowshed in the wilds of Botswana. Once there, Robyn and her siblings, mostly left to amuse themselves, grew up collecting snakes, canoeing with crocodiles and breaking in horses in the veld. In the shadow of one of Africa's worst AIDS crises, this moving, enchanting memoir is an extraordinary portrait of an unforgettable childhood.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (18 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747596565
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747596561
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 123,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'The nearest thing you will get to Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals in Africa and it is just as enchanting' Giles Foden, Conde Nast Traveller 'Beautifully written and lovingly told, Scott's book has the makings to be Out of Africa meets Running with Scissors' New York Times Book Review 'A fabulous read, rollicking, good-humoured and intensely sane' Alexandra Fuller 'Scott does more than simply record her African adventures. She tackles the difficult issue of race, revealing a shift in white attitudes across the generations [and] remind[s] us that southern Africa has many different histories' Independent

About the Author

Born in 1981, Robyn Scott spent her childhood in Botswana before beginning her formal education at the age of fourteen in Zimbabwe. Moving to New Zealand for her undergraduate degree, she studied bioinformatics at the University of Auckland. In 2004, she was awarded a Gates Scholarship to Cambridge University, where she took an MPhil in bioscience enterprise and studied the pricing of medicines in developing countries. Robyn lives in london, but visits and works regularly in southern Africa.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this! 27 Jun 2008
By Saki
Robyn Scott describes the members of her eccentric family so vividly, and with such warmth, that by the end of the book I felt bereft at having to say goodbye to them. Her descriptions of the Botswana landscape and her childhood adventures within it are beautifully drawn and often very funny. A fascinating picture of both modern Botswana and some fearlessly unconventional parenting. Warm-hearted and generous, a breath of fresh air in these timid times.
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gerald Durrell for the 21st Century. 23 May 2008
I read a review of this in Conde Nast Traveller by Giles Foden describing it as "My Family and Other Animals - in Africa" and, having been a fan of Durrell since I was a teenager, I felt compelled to see if he was right.

So, granted, there's not so much about about animals in a pin-them-to-a-board-and-count-their-abdomens kind of way, but the way Robyn Scott brings to life the wildlife and landscapes of Botswana, where she grew up as a child, is very much in the spirit of Durrell's books. Hers is also an eccentric family - a flying doctor father, a homeschooling mother, an adrenaline-addicted brother and animal-obsessed sister, and, making regular cameo appearances throughout, her four wonderful grandparents, (in particular her grandfather Ivor who, with his crazy schemes, questionable flying skills and longstanding feuds, makes for many laugh-out-loud moments.) In the midst of it all is Robyn, the narrator, an oasis of calm who desperately wants to be a normal child from a normal family.

The book's real triumph is Robyn's ability to show us the warmer, more human side of Africa that we so seldom get the chance to read about. It's a really life-affirming and big-hearted book, like a love-letter to Botswana, it colourful inhabitants and beautiful landscapes.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Major New Writing Talent 14 May 2009
What particularly makes this book stand out is that Scott writes so well. The maturity of her prose, depth of characterisation, genuine poigniancy and wry humour would be outstanding in a writer of any age. That this is her first work, dealing with events of childhood and youth still recent and feelings still quite raw is a majestic achievement. If you want to understand what it feels like to live in Africa then don't read Wilbur Smith, dip into this gem of a memoir and you won't be sorry.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars OUR VOTE FOR BEST NON-FICTION DEBUT OF 2008 25 May 2008
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A womderful and uplifting book for the summer 28 Jun 2008
Wherever you are going for your summer vacation, or even if you are just sitting at home, do read Robyn Scott's delightful book. It has a charm and warmth which combined with the unique philosophy of the big characters within the Scott family will charm you. For those of us who know and love Africa - despite the dark side that we hear reported everyday - this book reminds us of why we can never give up on Southern Africa. At the end of it all I can say is thank you to this remarkable young lady for filling a long flight with such a pleasurable read and ask her when will see her next book?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read! 10 Jun 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The story of Robyn's eccentric and often hilariously eventful childhood in Africa weaves its way through the hot, dry landscape of Botswana, and has you wishing your family were as wonderfully different as hers and that your childhood had been as exciting. Her parents' love for their children shines through everything, and she describes the family through her mother's rather haphazard but very effective homeschooling schedule, her father's very heavy work schedule, her grandfather's devil-may-care attitude to life, her brother's fascination with things that go "boom", her sister's love of any creature, no matter how tiny, and a variety of much loved and/or respected creepy, crawly, or four legged creatures which live with them or near them, wanted or unwanted, on a daily basis.
The book brought back both happy and unhappy memories of my own childhood in South Africa, and I can thoroughly recommend reading it to anyone, as it gives you a really good insight into the realities of living in Africa as only someone who loves it can do. Highly recommended!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good book, small writing
Published 14 days ago by Linda Durman
5.0 out of 5 stars A Present
After my son in law told me I reminded him of the Grandfather in the book I sent a copy to my daughter
Published 4 months ago by MR D J LACEY
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what i was expecting
I was disappointed with this book. I was expecting a book about life growing up in Africa with/amongst the Africans. Read more
Published 4 months ago by alison greenway
4.0 out of 5 stars If you like Precious Ramotswe, you'll like this
A Kindle Daily Deal and well worth 99p. Readable and funny with great Botswana locations and amusing characters. Well worth a read
Published 4 months ago by AliF
5.0 out of 5 stars Warm, funny, a wonderful read
I adored this book. A lovely insight into family life; albeit against a mist unusual backdrop of `fringe living` in Botswana.
Published 4 months ago by natalia
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply brilliant
This isn't my usual genre. However I couldn't put it down. The stories are true and amazing. I didn't want them to end.
Published 4 months ago by TinaB
5.0 out of 5 stars Home tuition at its best!
I had a lot of pleasure reading this book. It gave a fascinating account of an European family settling and growing up in Botswana while adapting to the culture, superstitions but... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Martin Walters
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book
Witty, interesting and utterly captivating - a wonderful read about life growing up in Botswana. One of my favourite books.
Published 6 months ago by Helen
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read with thought provoking and humorous content about life in...
This book is easy reading and gives interesting detailed insight in what is rewarding about living in a country quite different from my own,. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Patricia Southcott Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Read
A well written book about an interesting childhood. Easy to read and enjoyable although the section about the progress of HIV medicine her father was involved in was possibly in a... Read more
Published 6 months ago by mrssj
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