[Following is the official OnlineBookClub.org review of "The Slope of Kongwa Hill" by Anthony R. Edwards.]
4 out of 4 stars
Review by e-tasana-williams
The Slope of Kongwa Hill - A Boy's Tale of Africa is the autobiographical novel by Anthony Edwards. The year is 1948, and Mr. Edwards' family are expats from Britain who relocate to Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in East Africa. The book is divided into three parts: "The Foreigner", "One of the Boys" and "Growing Up". Each part details significant stages of Mr. Edwards' boarding school years at Kongwa School from age 9 to 14.
As a boy Mr. Edwards has a cool relationship with his parents, only seeing them on school holidays. Without including spoilers, Mr. Edwards' boarding school experience includes taking daily malaria prophylaxis, having Boy Scout adventures and being in constant fear of getting beaten with the kiboko (a thick, cane-like whip made from hippo skin). There is a Lord of the Flies element to the story, in that boarders have a great amount of independence, they develop their own societal hierarchy in a school with no physical boundary, and wildlife and boys wander freely.
Told in the first person from the author's perspective, this is an engaging story. The reader is drawn in immediately and held captive until the end of the book. It is reminiscent of Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa, but written from the perspective of a young boy instead of a woman. The writing is descriptive and concise at the same time, and it is easy to get lost in the East African countryside where Mr. Anthony spends his childhood.
When reading this book you will need to suspend any conflicting views you may have about colonialism, to appreciate the excellent writing. For example, adult servants are referred to as "boys" or "her Africans". Another example is the description of the Mau Mau rebels in Kenya. They fight against British rule, but instead of being called rebels or freedom fighters in the book, they are called terrorists. If you keep in mind that the tale is about the author's life in the midst of British colonial Africa, and that the author is a product of that history, you can truly enjoy this coming-of-age novel.
Although there is a glossary of terms at the end of the book, one thing I would like to see is a translation of Swahili phrases and conversations within the context in which they are said. There is one part where Tony's friend Hazel translates her conversation with the Masai for those present, but more translations would add to the enjoyment of the book.
Having said that, I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. The writing is engaging and illustrative, the voice is authentic and the work appears to be professionally edited. Readers who enjoy autobiographies, especially those set in rural areas, should take a look at The Slope of Kongwa Hill: A Boy's Tale of Africa.
Grand tale based on author’s schoolboy experiences in Africa
Coming-of-age novel recounts adventure-rich adolescence in late-Colonial Tanganyika... (read more)
African boarding school experience informs new novel by island author
by Elizabeth Nolan
Gulf Islands Driftwood Newspaper
“Salt Spring resident Anthony Edwards reveals a fascinating world that has seldom been examined in literature with his debut novel, The Slope of Kongwa Hill...” (read the full article)
If it was not for my wife I would not have come across this fascinating read. She chose it for me as it seemed to have all the ingredients I thoroughly enjoy in any book: a far-away place I will likely never visit, adventurous exploits seen and experienced by a young man in a wild and varied natural world as well as some very relevant history about which I know very little. Now, whether I finish such a book is another issue but in the case of The Slope of Kongwa Hill I did and in record time too! The Slope of Kongwa Hill is Mr Edwards personal account and told with a great sense for realism and history while infusing adventure and humour throughout every page. His is a book to not only enjoy but to actually 'experience' - with detailed descriptions it is easy to conjure up your own backdrop against which his memoirs unfold. It reads like a novel, yet it isn't. Being able to look into the daily lives and routines of native Africans and out-of-place British immigrants of all ages while they live in and cope with the harshly beautiful African Steppe is a treat. Mr. Edwards writing could easily have been a chronological narrative devoid of excitement or detailed description but not only has he managed to engage me with his style, he has encouraged me to look beyond my own world and as such he provided me with an extraordinary journey into a land I never knew existed.
The author writes beautifully of a boy's coming of age set in a British boarding school in wildest Africa.
The two most salient aspects of this book, to me, are the author’s tremendous diction and his ability to paint vivid images. The diction includes not only impeccable and creative English but also a delicious salting of African words too. The vivid images brought to life the boys' adventures as they rebelled and tried to relate to each other.
These myriad vignettes, segued together with the author's thoughtful boyish reflections, created an overall sense of the complexities and dangers of life in the boarding school. I learned of terrorist training camps, safari ants, wembembe (killer bees), simbas (lions), hunting trips that provided zebra dinners, canings with the sjambok (a whip used for harsh punishment), the excitement and sadness of a first romance (and British Standard Handfuls), and much about the history of Africa.
This book is about how a brainy, asthmatic, and gentle boy gradually learned how to stand up for himself, to survive, to make close friends, and to thrive in the harsh social and physical environment of a boarding school in Africa. Highly recommended.
A wonderfully told story of a rare period in time, when Africa was once again changing direction, and the colonial age was coming to an end. I attended the same school and so the tale opened up all the memories that have been dormant for 50 years. It is well written, and very easy to read, this is one of the best books I have read for years.
This is a book which most people would say is unbelievable but as a schoolmate of Tony I can only say believe it, it happened, I was there! A truly fantastic tale of times lost but fondly remembered.
I was entertained and educated in reading this well-crafted story. The descriptions are vivid and the adventures very dramatic. Bravo!
As a former Kongwa pupil, I am amazed at Tony Edwards' powers to faithfully recall events and atmosphere. These attributes enable him to accurately describe the life of a young boy in a harsh and unusual environment. Although one is inclined to romanticize one's childhood, especially if it was in as exotic a place as Africa, Tony's is an authentic and readable account. The book captures the flavour of life in another era where anyone there at the time remembers it fondly.
I was thrilled to learn someone had written a book about a boarding school in the Tanganyika bush that I attended in the 1950s. Before my copy arrived, I hoped the author would have captured at least a little bit of the magic of that weird and wonderful experience, and I am so happy to say that he did. He writes beautifully, and his memory for the atmosphere, the people and the events is a gift. As I read, little light bulbs went off in my head: "Yes, that's right! It was just like that!" And sometimes a memory of my own was triggered that had been lying dormant for 50 years. If you were a child in East Africa in the fifties, you have to read this book. But read it even if you were not. You will enjoy it. As a girl, my adventures were different and yet I can empathise completely with these boys and their exploits.
An accurate account of a very special school that I was very privileged to have attended. As a pupil at Kongwa for 6 years, Tony's book brought back so many wonderful memories and left me quite emotional and nostalgic as my late husband and I both met at Kongwa School and were married for 40 happy years. A must read for anyone who loves the African bush and a true life experience through the eyes of a young boy. Absolutely fantastic!!
I am one of those who get a mention in Tony's book, my memories are slightly different as 95% of my time in Kongwa School I was a DAY BUG and not a Boarder. My only bad memories are those of Maurice Ferguson (Fergy) here was a teacher who caned you for any real or imagined infringement and he didn't care what he used to cane you or where he caned you.
Glynn Ford, House Captain of Wilberforce 1952
As a fully paid up member of the "Wakongwa Tribe", the book brought back some great memories of a fabulous time of life - what a marvelous time we had! Yes, there are some bad memories, but, in the longer term, I believe the experience made us better people, equipped with a broad outlook on life and the tools to handle it! Above all, that time provided the basis of powerful "togetherness" of a small group of people, which, sixty-odd years later are still strong and enduring (as witnessed by the review authors), despite being scattered across the globe! Thank you, Tony - I shall be encouraging my grand daughters to read your book, which they will, I am sure, find difficulty believing what their old grandpa and his "rafikis" got up to!
The stories bring back many memories, some good some bad! I think we were in a way privileged to experience something quite unique and never to be repeated again. My parents visited the area one half term and were quite shocked at the conditions we endured, hence my removal after the following term to a boarding school back in the UK. Even though I was 11 years old when I first arrived I did feel sorry for the younger kids, especially the girls. The journeys to the school were usually bad enough! During the rainy seasons I remember having to get out of the bus when it was stuck in the mud to somehow give the driver a hand to dig us out. A well written account of a young boys experience and feelings in a strange and unfamiliar environment. I have enjoyed reading it from start to finish. It does make me want to return and experience some of the area again. Well done Tony.
Well Tony Edwards certainly did! As a little Dutch boy I was dropped in Kongwa. Egbert another Dutch boy was my translator and guide. Reading the book was like looking in the mirror. I loved the part where Tony dared to show the inner self of the boy, the aloneness and thus the developed self reliance. Wonderful closure for me and the assurance that it all really happened. Thanx Tony, Sieb Warntjes from Holland.
Tony gives an excellent account of his time in Africa as a young school boy.
This book had me in suspense from beginning to end! Looking forward to your follow up book Tony!
This book is a wonderful, moving story about a young boy's coming-of-age in the most bizarre setting. He is sent by his parents to a co-ed boarding school way off in the remotest corner of Tanganyika (this is during the last years of British Colonial rule). Think Harry Potter on safari. There are deadly poisonous snakes in the outdoor toilets, vicious spiders under the beds, lions roaming nearby... then add in all the teenage angst of loneliness and bullying, discovering the opposite sex, running away, finding adventure in snatched moments between classes, studying and "fag" duties. Really it is quite an education mixed in with great entertainment. It would make a fine movie. Highly recommended. This is a book you will enjoy for yourself and could give as a gift to any youngster.
I've had 'notes for a book' for many years now but I could never have written such an accurate, entertaining and interesting account of my days as a student at Kongwa as Anthony has done. I often wondered what the 'boys' got up to - not much different from our escapades by the looks of it.
I too, together with a group of other girls, got lost in the African farmers mealie fields at weekends. Us junior girls sneaked out into the darkest night to go and watch through the windows, the seniors practicing their dance moves at the hut. We all worshipped a Greek boy who was older, and a prefect.
I too had to make do, when in the canteen the seniors at the head of the table would eat all the butter and jam and forget to send such things 'down the line' to the riff raff at the bottom of the table.
I too sat on the toilet one day and on looking down saw a snake wrapped around the bottom of the toilet at my feet.
My worst nightmare was when a rat jumped from the rafters of the ceiling, into my bathwater while I was in it!
For a while I had a bed with broken springs, so that the mattress hung down to touch the floor.
I enjoyed every minute of Anthony's memories - especially the romantic ones!
Every girls' dream of first love at that age.
His tales of travel to and from school in Tanzania, had my daughter saying that 'it was like a Harry Potter story', because we had to take the train too.
Thank you Anthony Edwards, for the excellent book. All my friends from Tanzania who also attended Kongwa school are in the process of reading it. It has got us all exchanging our experiences again.
Caddy McAdam (my nickname from school days).
If you went to Kongwa School this book will bring back a flood of memories. The famous Kongwa dust that made all white shirts pink. The raids on other houses at night. The "Kasukus" and all the things that made Kongwa unique.
If you didn't go to Kongwa, or if you never lived in Africa, this book paints a stark picture of what life was like for colonial era school kids. Tony went to boarding school at three and a half years of age when his parents left for Africa and could not take him with. To be separated from your parents at so young an age was common for may kids whose parents either worked for the civil service or farmed or were in business. At the time, Kongwa was the only High School in the whole country. Many parents sent their kids to school in South Africa or Britain, seeing them for a few short weeks over Christmas during their whole school life.
This system produced some tough resilient adults. What other school do you know of where the students had to hunt for meat for the school kitchen?
Buy this book and read it. It’s entertaining and shows an Africa that no longer exists.
As the daughter of a Kongwa pupil (Caddy - Who has also written a review), I was very interested in this book so I could learn more about the different areas of Tanganyika (now Tanzania) my mum has often talked about.....but mainly to see what they all got up to!! I can honestly say this is the best book I have read in a long time - equally as good as the Harry Potter books or Roald Dahl' 'Boy' which I read as a child. There are so many similarities between this book and the Harry Potter books it's uncanny (except this book is obviously autobiographical and not fictional). Instead of being based in a British boarding school, this autobiographical book is based in the 1950's about a boarding secondary school in the middle of the bush in Africa, where expats from around the world often sent their children to be educated. And yes, most of them have to get the train to school (The Kongwa Express... Not the Hogwarts Express!) where all the adventures begin...
Although the author is a few years older than my mum and Edwards name wasn't recognised, there were still a lot of other names in the book I did recognise (which made it ever more interesting to read), as they were often mentioned in conversations between my parents and their friends. I suppose it was a different time - the close knit community over there all knew each other. People seemed a lot more friendly and approachable than people nowadays.
There is a lot of humour in this book, as well as heartache, drama, excitement and many adventures and courageous stories to be shared. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOR ALL AGES! My only lasting thought is it would have been good if one of the Kongwa ladies published a book about the Kongwa School from the girl's perspective but no one has, as yet...
This is a memoir of a unique time in history now lost to Africa. Tony Edwards tells an adventurous story with the sensitivity of one who understands the hurts and joys of childhood. From parental relations, bullying, and first love, to death defying pranks and a lion hunt he captures a time shared by only a few children. Those who left their parents in the wilds of Africa to be schooled in what might be a wilder place than any of them imagined attest to the truths he captures. This is an engaging book.
That school's environment was actually very nice; notwithstanding the lengthy terms & the inevitable bullying incidents...The book revealed pretty much an ideal environment for youngsters & many of those schooldays are to be envied. Note presence of matrons, girls, & the care lavished on them & different activities they could undertake. How the author was able to recount such detail is either a miracle, or he wasn’t bad at using some licence. More likely Mr Edwards has a fabulous memory! I enjoyed the yarns and thought it was a worthy piece.
A MOST RECOMMENDED READ telling the story of a nine year old boy and his life growing up in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) East Africa in the late 1940's - 1950's colonial days before Independence when he was sent by his parents to a boarding school deep in the bush/outback where he and others including girls had to face up to a life without home comforts and no mothers and fathers to run to for help and no phones!!!!! Instead they had to survive somehow with Matrons' Schoolmistresses and Teachers of "all sorts" and discipline was the order of every day!
Children of different nationalities attended and some came from many miles away who travelled on trains, planes, buses and lorries taking several days to get to the school which was set in exceptional surroundings stretching for miles along with the local Wagogo Tribe and where wild animals poisonous snakes, scorpions roamed, walked and flew! The vegetation was sparse and the earth was red and dusty with storms when cover had to be sought pretty quickly! Sometimes the roads were washed away and the school was cut off from the outside world for weeks without provisions getting through including mail/letters from home!!
Electricity was run from a generator so there were candlelit/gas light suppers and bedtimes by torchlight! The food was scarce; it was miles from civilisation and the children were only allowed home twice a year so there were plenty of "failed" attempted great escapes following the railway line out and beyond hopefully to make it home!
There were a lot of emotional ups and downs, homesickness galore but a lot of good friends to be made and fun to be had by the bucket load and lots lots more besides.....
Many thanks to the Author Anthony Edwards for writing this wonderful book which has brought back so many unforgettable childhood memories and re-connected old friends!
I recently purchased The Slope of Kongwa Hill from Amazon.ca (Canada) and I was surprised that it was delivered to me within a few days. I started reading it and found that it was well written in novel form based on a true story of life in a British style boarding school in 1950's Tanganyika now Tanzania, East Africa. Like the author Tony Edwards I went through the same process where my father sat me down as an eight year and explained that I was going to be sent to a boarding school at Kongwa 300 miles inland from our home in Dar es Salaam on the coast. Next thing I was on that train with a hundred other boys and girls going to a "small town" on the dry and dusty central plains of East Africa.
The book is true to form and interestingly written as a story (not documentary) about daily life at the school and includes exciting hunting trips to get (gazelle & zebra) meat for the dinning room stewing pots, tense cricket matches, school bullying and also teenage romance in between class work.
I can't remember exact conversations 65 years ago but this book has brought back memories of climbing Kongwa Hill on a Sunday afternoon when we were freely wandering around the bush also seeing one of the hunting trips returning and being impressed by seeing senior boys carrying rifles.
I have always been into sports and it all started in Kongwa with football, cricket and athletics winning my first sprint races (2) with Cadbury chocolate bar prizes which got me a few more "best friends".
I was at Kongwa from September 1951 until March 1953 (mid term) when my father was transferred to Mombasa and a matron walked me down to the railway station put me on a train to Dar es Salaam and said "have a good trip". I was nine years old. That was the way it was back then.
My schooling was completed at Mombasa Primary and Prince of Wales, Nairobi, Kenya. (Now Nairobi School).
I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful book, The Slope of Kongwa Hill, about the main character's adventures while growing up over the years he spent at Kongwa school in East Africa.
From a rather shy boy to a self-assured adolescent who has a crush on his girlfriend we get an in depth look at the narrator's eye on the world.
The dialogues are brilliant and bring the characters to life in a way that surprised me!
What also surprised me was how the physical surroundings were so well described and took me back to my own memories of growing up in Kenya. From running across snakes, killer bees and hunting antelope to supplement school meals, the author has cleverly laid down the backdrop to this school in the bush. The trains, planes and garis would be any school boy's delight!
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Africa and to anyone who is curious about residential schools of this era.
It is also just a great read and made me feel nostalgic about my own childhood!