Friday, September 9, 2016

Born Free by Joy Adamson

Remember the song? The song was everywhere in 1966 when the film version of Joy Adamson’s best-seller was playing in theatres. I wonder if we would remember Joy Adamson and her book if not for that film and the song by John Barry with lyrics by Don Black. Born Free was published in 1960 and included photographs of Adamson in Kenya with Elsa, the lioness. This is not Hemingway’s Africa. This is the Africa and the natural world the flower-children of the 1960s wanted to believe in. Born Free is a practical, fact-filled piece of non-fiction, not overly sentimental, but a rather straightforward account of raising the lion cub Elsa and training her for release later in the wild. It works as a piece of journalism. Adamson tries hard to be objective, and the story is compelling. The over 100 photographs make up for any shortcomings in the prose. Adamson’s husband George plays a key role in the narrative. Born Free may not be a great book, but it’s a great story, told as well as one can expect. The 1966 film version starred Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers and provided a color pallet to the black and white images that helped turn the book into a best-seller. I recall vividly seeing the film upon its release and within a year I owned the paperback. I have not seen the film since, and when I hear the song occasionally on the radio I turn it off. Joy and George Adamson both came to a sad end. Both were murdered in separate incidents. Joy Adamson was murdered in Kenya in 1980 by a laborer; George Adamson was murdered in 1989 by Somali bandits. Joy Adamson’s follow-up books include Living Free: The Story of Elsa and Her Cubs (1961), and Forever Free: Elsa’s Pride. Gorge Adamson wrote Bwana Game: The Life Story of George Adamson (1968) and My Pride and Joy (1986) an autobiography.

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