Joy Adamson

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John Hughes

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In a sense ["Forever Free"] is the saddest of the trio. It tells of Elsa's death and it is an intensely moving, and at times harrowing, story….

Elsa herself dominates only part of the latest book. Much of it is in fact devoted to the Adamsons' rescue of Elsa's three cubs….

Never did the cubs become as tame as Elsa and never, apparently, did Mrs. Adamson achieve exactly the same rapport. But it's a heart-warming account and a fitting conclusion to one of the most moving animal stories ever to come out of Africa.

John Hughes, "The Elsa Era," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1963 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), March 28, 1963, p. 15.

[Joy Adamson] began painting Kenyans of various tribes in their traditional wear in 1945.

After she had already done a number of paintings—and had some published in the Geographical Magazine—she was commissioned by the colonial Government to produce a record of the twenty-two most important tribes…. [The Peoples of Kenya] is an account of the undertaking….

Mrs. Adamson's commission was to produce an anthropological record, and it perhaps did not much matter that she is an undistinguished painter. But though she worked hard to reproduce what she saw, the result—even as a record—was not very satisfactory. She may, for instance, have tried to find out the ritual significance and symbolism of the clothes and ornaments she was painting, but neither in the Coryndon Museum, Nairobi (where the originals hang) nor in this book are her paintings adequately captioned. As a result they are sadly uninformative considering the time and work which went into them.

If poor captioning makes the illustrations of The Peoples of Kenya unsatisfactory, the text is even more so. Mrs. Adamson spent about ten years at her work. Her travels took her all over Kenya in a series of safaris anybody would envy. She was at close quarters, for the hours taken to paint a portrait, with an unparalleled cross-section of Kenya's ordinary people.

One would have thought that the account of all this could not fail to be extraordinarily exciting. Yet Mrs. Adamson has succeeded in making it almost dull.

Her book reads as though she had gone chronologically through her old diaries, writing them up a bit, adding a little from memory, and supplying a certain amount of anthropological and sociological meat from the books listed in the bibliography. The result is a mishmash of travel diary, description of the problems of finding sitters, chatty narrative about the sitters when found, interspersed with the author's various trials by sickness, untrustworthy cooks, and so on.

There are many references to legend, ritual and so on, but (in spite of the bibliography) they mostly read like titbits picked up during the gossip of a long painting session….

Mrs. Adamson's experiences and opportunities for learning about Kenya could have made an outstanding book if only they had happened to somebody else. As it is, all chances are missed, all trails lead to frustration. Beside this, the fact that it is twelve years out of date is perhaps less significant. If The Peoples of Kenya, in spite of everything, contains a good deal of interest, the credit is due to the subject—and to the author only in her role as photographer.

"Tribal Titbits," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1967; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3432, December 7, 1967, p. 1179.

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