I guess I’m an ageist. As my age advances, my interest in young writers declines. They may have dazzling pyrotechnic writing styles – but I don’t care about style, I care about content, and I want to spend my time with writers who understand things that I don’t. Generally, that means writers with a range of experiences and insights that can only come from living. Believe me, I’m not saying I know it all. Most of the time I can’t even say what it is. But there is something about a young person’s writing that usually feels thin and unseasoned to me.
Given my prejudice against tyro writers like Boyd Varty, I opened Cathedral of the Wild with skepticism that lasted about a page and a half. I love this book and found Varty’s writing to be funny, profound, moving, witty, informative, fascinating, and inspiring, often all at once.
This is a memoir of a remarkable childhood in a singular family. Varty comes of age on a game preserve in South Africa’s wildlands, the bushveld. The family land was purchased by ancestors who liked to hunt big game, but over time the family’s love of nature evolves and they become staunch, influential conservationists whose business is to bring tourists on photographic safaris and to make death-defying wildlife videos. The family is ambitious, passionate, risk-loving; heavy on vision and low on conformity. Varty’s early years are punctuated by brushes with death and exposure to the wonder of encounters with wild animals on their home turf.
For those who feel connection to nature, this book will resonate in every chapter. Throughout, Varty provides wonderful anecdotes about the animals he encounters, and he also powerfully conveys the spirituality he experiences in the natural world. When things go long and seriously wrong for his family, his quest for recovery takes him on a memorable pilgrimage into the wild.
Few books are perfect and this one is excessively anecdotal, and succumbs to some New Age claptrap. Ultimately, none of that matters. This is a wonderful book.
I got this book for free in exchange for an honest review. I savored reading it overmuch and read it slowly – so I missed my Librarything review deadline, which means I won’t qualify for more free books for a while. That’s okay, this was worth it!