One of the unexpected delights of being involved in publishing a book is the positively fascinating feedback from the readers. While some of it was expected from supportive friends and family; from unexpected quarters and from around the world came some great letters and emails about readers’ own experiences and reflections vividly recalled after reading the book. It is from these gems that I briefly draw upon…
A spot of family history research prompted this feedback from one reader in the USA… After Googling her father’s name, the reader emailed to say she had spotted a reference about him in An Unexpected Journey . Her father had been in Keren, Eritrea in the early 1950s when the author and her husband were there. After reading the book, she emailed to say how the author’s detailed descriptions of the country of Eritrea at this particular time in its political history had evoked the memories from her early childhood in Keren and stories that her parents had related to her. She thanked the author for writing this wonderful memoir.
The author and I met up with a lovely couple in the summer of 2016. They had known the author and her husband briefly in Dodoma, Tanganyika in 1955 and wanted to meet up again to express their appreciation for the support they received from the author and her husband at a difficult time in the posting. They had thoroughly enjoyed the book and the many stories within it which they remembered vividly; such as the Indian lawyer’s little dog, snatched by a leopard within a few feet of the family sitting outside, taken to the top of the street light and, amid all the clamour, finally dropped to ground – very shaken. By all accounts, it was most fortunate to survive its traumatic experience! After all these years, it was wonderful for the author to catch up with them again, and to have the joy of sharing their mutual memories.
A reader wrote about how the book took her back to her early married days in Kenya, being posted up country, and wondering what the Public Works Department issue of randomly assorted furniture would be like each time. She felt that the author was so good at recording all that she saw, making it such an interesting read. Co-incidentally, they were also posted to the Turks & Caicos Islands, albeit a little earlier than the author, in the early 1970s. There were a lot of problems on the islands when they were there which she notes from the book, did not sound any better when the author and her husband were posted there in 1979-81.
The book had been a break-through for one reader, after years of feeling guilty about how much she hated being posted to the Turks & Caicos Islands with her husband! After she had read just how depressing the author had found it too at times, she felt her reactions to it were not after all unjustified… Another letter came from someone who was sent the book as a gift, and had found the descriptions of life on these islands very close to their own experiences – positive and negative!
Comparative experiences in other countries have been fascinating, and one couple remarked on the very different picture of East Africa given by the author to that which was often described to them by people who had ‘moved west’. They remarked: ‘Usually East African territories were given a great write up and [thus emphasised] how backward West Africa was.’ She goes on to recall one visitor to their West African posting who expressed amazement that they had no running water, no electricity and appeared to have no knowledge of kerosene refrigerators! A situation the author knew only too well from her various postings in Eritrea and Tanganyika.
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