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Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa    by Mark Seal order for
by Mark Seal
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Wildflower, veteran journalist Mark Seal tells of the 'Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa' of Oscar-nominated pioneering wildlife filmmaker and indomitable conservationist Joan Root. After decades spent helping Kenya's poor and needy, she was tragically murdered in January 2006 (at age sixty-nine) in her home bordering Kenya's Lake Naivasha, probably because of her conservation activities and vigilante campaign to preserve the lake.

Of the Roots' legendary documentaries, Seal tells us that 'you traveled with them, whether they were sporting with ferocious crocodiles and hipppos in exotic lakes, sailing over Mount Kilimanjaro in a hot-air balloon, or being chased, mauled, bitten, gored, and stung by every conceivable creature as they drove, flew, ran, and swam across Africa, determined to capture the continent and its wonders on film before this wild world was lost forever.' Seal introduces us to the duo - Alan the gregarious daredevil and natural-born comedian, and shy, reliable, organized Joan who had a magical touch with animals - and describes how their filmmaking adventures - and huge success - evolved through the combination of their talents, beginning with a working honeymoon.

But it wasn't all rosy even in the early days. Joan was struck down by myasthenia, that left her unable to conceive children, and Alan often had severe injuries, after one of which he almost lost his arm. In 1986, the couple separated. Though Alan remarried, a devastated Joan did not, but centered her life on the home they had made bordering Lake Naivasha, where a burgeoning flower industry damaged the environment and drew 'an exodus of poverty-driven refugees from across Africa'. Joan attempted to rehabilitate some who poached on the lake, in particular rough diamond David Chege, who insinuated his way into her life and might have been involved in her death.

Mark Seal quotes a friend of Joan's saying she died because 'she turned on a light.' In Wildflower, he has written an account that leaves the reader angry on Joan Root's behalf, wondering why such bad things can happen to such very good and well intentioned people, but also sad for the many Kenyans living on the edge of survival, and for the devastation humanity wreaks on the natural world.

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