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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars

on 24 January 2010
What a well written book. Beautiful story, particularly as I know the places described.
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on 22 February 2016
A wonderful story of an English gentleman who built a fabulous mansion in the wilds of Northern Rhodesia employing at one time up to a thousand local natives plus supporting independence for Northern Rhodesia. Achievements during his lifetime are amazing. Couldn't believe who he married, sounded fictiontional , had to check it out on Wikipedia.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 July 2010
Christina Lamb has been fortunate that the subject of her biography, Stewart Gore-Browne, was a prolific diarist and letter writer who recorded a huge amount of detail about his daily life, his feelings and attitudes, and the physical environment in which he lived. She has made brilliant and evocative use of her material.

Gore-Browne was born in 1883 into an Establishment family (father a barrister, one uncle a bishop, another a vice-admiral). He had little rapport with his parents, but a great deal with his father's younger sister, the sprightly Ethel Locke-King, whom he adored as more than a mother-figure: at one time she had gently to remind him of the Seventh Commandment. His correspondence with her is the source of much of the first part of the book: in Africa he would write to her every other day; and later he wrote a weekly letter to his friend Roy Welensky.

He joined the Army, and in 1911, at the age of 28, went to Africa to work on the Anglo-Belgian Border Commission which was mapping the border between Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo. He fell in love with the country, and in particular with a remote spot by a lake called Shiwa Ngandu, where he was determined to build for himself one day a great English-style country house at the centre of an estate. He had begun with a few huts for himself and his Bemba labourers; after three months he paid what was meant to be a short visit to England; but the War broke out, and he served on the Western Front. In 1920 he returned to Shiwa Ngandu. He had acquired 23,000 acres of land from the British South Africa Company, half as a grant to ex-soldiers and the other half at a shilling an acre. He initially had two Englishmen to work with him; but apart from them, the nearest white people at the time were a missionary couple living some sixty miles away. He was then a bachelor: for three years from the age of 21 he had been deeply in love with a girl who married someone else; and he thought he could never marry anyone else.

Much of the first half of the book, then, is taken up with his amazing undertaking, as the great house and its landscaped approach took shape. By 1926 he had a permanent staff of 356 working in the house and on the estate; sometimes more than 1,200 people worked for him. The men were paid 5d a day, the women 2d. (There were many years when the estate did not pay for itself, and he could afford the expense only by drawing on his intended inheritance as the heir of the wealthy Ethel.) His authority over the men was extensive. Though he liked and admired the Bemba for the most part and disliked the patronizing attitudes towards Africans of other settlers, he sometimes expressed these himself. He was a martinet with a short temper and occasionally beat them fiercely. The house servants wore white gloves, scarlet waistcoats over white tops, scarlet bermuda shorts and patent leather shoes when they served his meals on beautiful china brought out from England: he always dressed formally for dinner.

On a visit to England at the end of the first half of the book, he met the orphaned daughter of his first love: she seemed her mother's spitting image; he married her, and she went out to Africa with him. She was 18, he was 43. Initially she was as interested in Shiwa as he was, but eventuallly, to his great sadness, the marriage broke down.

In 1935 he was persuaded to stand for election to the (whites only) Legislative Council of Northern Rhodesia, and became a member of the Executive in 1939. For all his patriarchal behaviour on the estate and his often expressed despair at the incompetence or unreliability of his African workers, he became known not only for being (according to him) the only one of the 22 members of LegCo to be interested in African welfare and development, but for his view that Africans should be prepared for partnership in running the country and for his attacks on the colour bar in shops and public places. He scandalized his colleagues by having Africans at his dinner parties. He financed the education at Makarere University of Harry Nkumbula (later President of the Northern Rhodesian African Congress), spotted the 21 year old Kenneth Kaunda as one of the likely future leaders of black Africans, and was in correspondence with Hastings Banda, the future leader of Nyasaland (Malawi). He disapproved of the creation of the Central African Federation, though his friend Roy Welensky was its Prime Minister. It had been created to merge the small number of whites in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland with the more numerous whites in Southern Rhodesia who were even tougher in keeping Africans in their place. Though in the early 1950s Gore-Browne had thought that the Africans were not ready for independence, by the late fifties he not only though it was inevitable, but that they could and should run the country. He dined publicly in a Lusaka hotel with Kaunda, gave funds to his increasingly militant party, joined it formally in 1961, and, after the Central African Federation had collapsed, took part in the negotiations with the British which led in 1964 to the independence of Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, with Kaunda as President. When Gore-Browne died, aged 84, in 1967, Kaunda ordered a state funeral for him.

This beautiful book ends with an elegiac chapter covering the last three years of this remarkable man, who was in so many ways a typical upper-class Englishman of his time, but in many others quite unique.
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on 17 October 1999
This is a novel based upon the enthralling true story of a rich, young English gentleman trying to overcome his insecurities by carving his own kingdom out of the hostile African bush. For a few decades his ego, his cruel determination and most of all his inherited wealth keep his illusions alive but in his futile struggle he hurts those around him and his legacy is an unsustainable lifestyle and a decaying mansion filled with unhappy memories.
Christina Lamb's is not the first telling of this fascinating story and it will certainly not be the last. Based largely on the diaries of Stewart Gore-Browne, "The Africa House" is very readable thanks to more than a little poetic license and a generous dose of African "safari" anecdotes. If accuracy has sometimes been sacrificed for readability it is probably due to the understandable reluctance of some of the family to share such personal information about what must have been some very difficult times.
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on 8 December 2013
Having been brought up in Zambia I have a special connection to this book and have bought several copies to give to members of my family. This man has to be admired and shame on those who took advantge of him.
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on 4 August 2009
Christina Lamb has written a book that I have read several times.I have lent it to others & have received rave reviews from them. Stuart Gore Brown is a true English eccentric with extremely high ideals of building an English estate in the middle of the African bush. He actually wishes to give Africans back their country & relegate the English to maintaining the infrastructure. His love life is equally eccentric - falling in love with the mother but marrying her daughter! This is a truly absorbing book all the more for being a true story. Buy it / read it - you won't be diappointed.
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on 27 March 2011
brilliant book,fascinating chap, it was compelling reading - now I need to go to Zambia! Lost Lion of Empire about Euan Grogan is similar if you like reading about fearless colonials in Africa.
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on 14 November 2016
Such an interesting, compelling story which captured my imagination so much so that I am planning a visit to northern Zambia in February 2017 to visit and stay in the Africa House.
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on 4 May 2009
Christina Lamb is the ONLY author whose books I will buy on the strength of her name alone without having also flicked through the back-cover precis and a few chapter lead-ins. On the basis of her writing I am in love with this woman! She takes me places I would never dream of going on my own. She always remains faithful to that trust!

This is an amazing story about an amazing man in an amazing country written by an amazing storyteller.

Just buy the damn book.
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on 27 February 2015
well written book on a fascinating period in colonial Africa . Would recommend it to those readers who have an interest in Africa and its development over the last 200 years
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