The author’s ancestors came to southern Africa in the early 19th century, and have played a role – sometimes a prominent one – in the history of European settlement of the continent ever since. Among those early ancestors was the extraordinary Henry Francis Fynn, one of the party of adventurers who founded the town of Port Natal, which later evolved into Durban. The author is the sixth generation on from Francis Fynn, and the third generation to have lived in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Rather than beginning with a linear account from birth onwards, what we get here is a thrilling opening scene involving a narrow escape from a charging elephant, which shifts skilfully to the point where the author, “green and dripping as a newborn impala”, waded into the business of running safaris in what was then Rhodesia.
It’s an enjoyable narrative, spiced with the author’s wry humour, but what really makes it fascinating is the background – the relatively lighthearted personal stories contrasted with the lethal guerrilla fighting that was going on in Rhodesia during the early years of the safari venture in the 1970s. Throughout the memoir, the narrative deviates periodically from the chronological line, artfully using memory triggers to introduce expansive elements such as the author’s family history, the related politics and the recent pattern of persecution of white farmers under the Mugabe dictatorship. It’s a fascinating story filled with the touch-and-go, seat-of-pants incidents and situations common to pioneer tales, as well as intelligent and very well-informed accounts of politics at the high diplomatic level and on the ground.
The descriptions are vivid and blunt. Angel in a Thorn Bush is an unusually interesting and enjoyable autobiography. Vibrantly, robustly narrated, intelligently structured for dramatic effect, and packed with informative detail about the wilds of Africa and political history, it makes an enlightening and highly readable story.