Published seven times in 1960, three prints being made in the month of April alone this demonstrates the popularity of this book at the time. It was published at a time when safari package holidays had yet to be invented and the farthest that most English people traveled abroad was to a Spanish coastal holiday resort. Born Free brings directly into your life the African savanna and bush, the wildlife that inhabits it and what it is like to live amongst it. This will account in some measure for the rapturous reception of this book. In addition, and in the main, it will be because of the fact that it recounts an enduring relationship between a human being and an animal; most people, including me, cannot resist a good, high arrh factor animal story such as this.
Born Free, the first of a trilogy, recounts in detail Elsa's early life and her transformation from a helpless lion cub only a few weeks old to a young lioness able to fend for herself in the wild. Even though I knew the story beforehand and I've seen the film decades ago and I'm now a somewhat world-weary cynic of a certain age, it has utterly captured my heart. This book has brought me much joy at the beginning and end of my days, sandwiching my daily stresses with tales of another world at another time.
Joy Adamson's writing is direct and immediate with little lyricism, but this does not detract. It makes the story of her life in the African bush with Elsa highly engaging and accessible.
There is a naivety to Joy Adamson's account of Elsa, which is infectious and somewhat beguiling. In essence Joy lays bare, (and thus made herself vulnerable to criticism) for her readers her undying and unconditional love for Elsa, which some may say was somewhat un-natural, but perhaps understandable for a woman who had had three miscarriages. Joy needed to have a means to release her un-expressed maternal love and Elsa turned up right on cue.
Joy Adamson found it difficult to find a publisher for her book, but when one finally said yes it set off a domino effect: Elsa, the wonderful lion cub and later lioness became known around the world, a film was made of her story, the making of the film had a life changing effect upon the McKenna's who portrayed Joy and George Adamson, resulting in them founding the Born Free charity which continues to this day.
The work of the Adamsons with Elsa in bringing her up from a lion cub, whose mother George had killed with a bullet, to the point of her being able to fend for herself in the wild, is regarded by some as controversial. Personally I take my hat off to them for saving at least one of the three orphaned cubs from a miserable life in a zoo - Elsa's two sisters ended up in Rotterdam zoo. In a sense, one might well think that it was the least they could do. Although Joy makes light of Elsa's sister's incarceration and says that she visited them in Rotterdam and reported that they were both living in excellent conditions, one has to wonder whether in fact she was glossing over the situation, given the state of most zoos at this time - lions in small and barren cages often with their occupants pacing up and down rhythmically. Maybe this is the price that had to be paid for the ultimate founding of the Born Free charity one of whose objectives is to free animals from appalling living conditions in captivity.
One has to remember that she lived the life of a colonialist employing Africans as servants to undertake menial housework, camp preparation and dismantling for her. There is obvious prejudice in her writing, which grates and it is pretty clear that she regarded Africans as inferior. Ultimately, many years later, she was to meet her death by another of her servant's hands because of her attitude towards them. This gripe, in my estimation is not a reason to set this book aside.
For all those that love animals and who wish for escapism you will love this book.