Born Free

In rummaging through a box of books I found one that was on my list.

Born Free – a 1960 edition

And that was that !!

First book chosen. Also one of my favourites therefore I was a happy challengee.

As I opened the pages there it was – that smell. I remembered it from my childhood.

The pages smelt of burning sun, baked rocks and sand, brackish waterholes, fresh cool flowing rivers, tawny fur and the blood scent of fresh kills.

I merely meant to glance over the photos, read a long forgotten passage or two…

By chapter 4 it was time to settle in and let the rest of the world go about its business as I roamed alongside George and Joy, and my long beloved Elsa.

With the passing years she has lost none of her charm.

Elsa and Joy Adamson

Once more I felt privileged to be part of those first three years of her life. I ran along side her as she chased giraffe, and I held my breath waiting for her to return after disappearing in to the bush in pursuit of another playmate.

It is just as marvelous to me today, as it was decades ago, to experience through Joy Adamson’s words the courage it took from George, Joy and Elsa to take the steps they did to return her to the wild.

Elsa’s favourite sleeping place.

What they achieved together changed generations of thinking about the possibilities for wild animals that have become tame.

But this would do nicely as well. With George Adamson.

Because of Elsa many other animals have been given the chance to return to what they were born to – freedom.

Elsa with a buffalo kill.

They taught her the skills she would have learned from her mother. They taught her to survive. Yet this powerful animal never lost her trust in the Adamsons, even allowing them and Nuru (above…Nuru is slitting the buffalos throat in the Mohammedan way so that he can eat some of the meat) to help her finish the kills.

Did this book read differently for me than the many times before.  Surely it must have for I am no longer an innocent seeing the world through fresh eyes.

Still, I remember a feeling from those days that returned with each flip of the pages. Wonder.

Not that either Charlie or Chevvy were impressed as they stretched out beside me on the bed.

Ummmm…it’s just a cat after all…


You could use one hand to pat me you know !!

When I closed the book on the last page there was a lump in my throat.

Partly because today’s me knows that Elsa died when she was only five years old.

Partly because Elsa spent the last two years of her life living how a lion should.


Her story – like Elsa herself – has lost none of its charm for me. I can still taste the winds as they sweep over the African plains. I hear the lions roar in my bones. I will be forever grateful she existed and Joy Adamson told me her story.

Elsa's grave in MeruFor those non-readers out there…

Hire or buy the film…

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  1. Ohhh that smell! I think people who are not avid readers never get addicted to that smell or even long for or recognize it! But true bibliophiles…wellll…we know that smell all too well. 🙂 I cried when they set her free, even though you know it was the right thing to do, I still bawled. Such a great story! Glad you revisited it, Jo. And thanks for sharing those wonderful pics!


  2. Just like you, Born free was a personal favourite all those years ago; the book and the movie absolutely kindle a fondness for the natural world. At a time when the imagination fostered new life, new worlds and new sublime realities. Oddly enough, at the time when the movie was made, coincided to a time as a child I feared bears. Born Free softened that fear. I began to view wild things a little different. I don’t fear bears now, I respect them. The story of Elsa


    1. Perhaps not such a crazy fear when you realize just what a bear is capable of. But what a story – Elsa helped you over a fear…love that fact !!!


      1. By the time I was in my teens I was over it. Tested it when I was 14 years as I spent my summers in the north with my older brother. Befriended a neighbour boy the same age. We went out every day on bikes to pick blueberries along a hydro line in the bush. There without fail, an old female bear (sow) foraging away met us. We didn’t bother her and she did bother us. If she got to close to a good spot we were picking, we simply yelled “find your own spot”. And she would move away. The same went for her however. If we came to close to a bumper spot she was into, her ears would go back flat and we would get a couple of grunts.


        1. I doubt that I would ever get over a healthy fear of bears – I mean they’re bears !!! But that experience sounds amazing really – getting that close. WOW is all I can say.


      1. Not as often as I’d like Jo. I’ve been to Nigeria which is where my father came from, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia (in one trip),and Ghana. I’ve also been to Morocco twice and that’s a melting pot quite different to sub Saharan Africa. I want to go back, I need to go back, but not sure if I will ever be able to afford to. Born Free is the earliest thing I saw about Africa and even though I didn’t know I was half African then, I felt a deep connection.


        1. I think the earth calls to us Gilly, singing us back to our roots even when we don’t know them. Sometimes those roots may not even be genetic, but more of a psychic bond. I loved Botswana – ever since I was a child it fascinated me, and it felt as if the earth vibrated when I stood on the soil there.


  3. I must put my hand up and say that I never read this book – I think I saw the film once. But I agree wholeheartedly about the power of books. Most of my current reading is on a Kindle. It has the advantage that I can take as many books as I like with me on holiday in the space occupied by a single paperback. And I have relived some of those books from my younger reading days that have long since gone to the charity shop – Treasure Island, Kidnapped, HMS Ulysses are examples.

    I also look for more serious books that I read or experienced in some other way in my youth. Recent actual book acquisitions have included Football Daft by Michael Parkinson (1968 and ironically an illustration that little has changed in the world of football over the last 40 years), The Story of The Heavens by Sir Robert Ball (1913 – Just about the first book about astronomy aimed at the ordinary person) and Top Link Locomotives by Norman McKillop (1957 – read it as a young railway enthusiast in paperback in the late 1960’s).

    Finally, my introduction to Africa came in the writings of Doris Lessing – It’s a strange quirk of fate that when I came to settle down I married a Lady from Zimbabwe… It begs the question of whether lessing’s writings sowed some kind of seed doesn’t it 😉


    1. Very interesting to read your thoughts and your favourites. I have read a few books on kindle (on my laptop) and am beginning to find the convenience quite useful, but there is still a heartfelt attachment to the written page. It is curious that your Lady has roots in Africa – but that begs me to ask how I ended up married to a Dutchman for a time.


      1. You may have to look back at your reading over the years to find the answer to that one, although it’s probably just coincidence and Gilly’s comment brought the subject to mind for me 😉 I still prefer the written page for technical books and books with significant photographic content.


        1. I have sometimes wondered if readers are perhaps more open to other cultures, maybe even find other cultures attractive because of the things we read. Just a thought…
          I think I have until now just found it harder to read words on a screen…but having tried a friends e-reader lately i will admit that technology has come a long way and they are much easier on the eyes these days.


  4. I haven’t read this one, but after reading your review, I think I’ll look for a copy to add to my collection. Sounds like a touching story. And Charlie and Chevvy are just so cute!


  5. Oh, dear Jo, my eyes in tears… This is so beautiful post, Thank you. Elsa seems so beautiful and I can’t imagine like a cat…living with them… Thank you you shared such a nice and unforgetable story with us. Blessing and Happiness for you all, your cat seems like a little tiger 🙂 I love cat families… With my love, nia


    1. I never made it in to Nigeria. The day before we were due to cross over from Cameroon they closed the borders to change their currency and the borders remained closed for a while so we had to look at other options for getting North.


    1. Thanks Hook – I love it when I get to delve in to old loves, well new loves as well…actually I just love diving in to anything really…hehehe. But Elsa is a piece of my history, and such a great tale it was easy to get in to the book and the review.


    1. Pages, at least pages that are embedded with great writing and memories always have an aroma to me, as if the tale itself has grown up and around them. I know, I am a little weird at times…but it is true.


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