Ride the Wings of the Morning: Letters to and from
IN THE early 1990s, Sophie Neville went out to South Africa to
work for a horse-safari company in the Northern Transvaal, in an
area called the Waterberg. Most tourists to Africa see the wildlife
from the back of a minibus with a raised roof. Riding out into the
bush to see wild animals close up sounds much more fun. But it can
also be rather dangerous.
Neville's letters home speak of people's experience of being
charged by rhinos, as well as other misadventures. No one is ever
killed on her horse safaris, although there are a few narrow
escapes. But these letters home are written in a comic, not a
tragic, key; so being chased by a rhino sounds fun rather than
The letters cover the decade of the 1990s, a period when South
Africa was emerging from the period of apartheid. The Waterberg is
remote farming country, an Afrikaner stronghold, and subject to all
the doleful things that we hear in media reports - the scourge of
AIDS, droughts, the rising tide of violence - as well as an
appalling standard of road safety, which we tend to hear little
Neville does not obscure these things, but it is clear that
Africa is so much more than the bad-news stories. Even though she
contracts potentially deadly diseases, such as bilharzia and
amoebic dysentery, besides breaking her pelvis in two places in a
road smash, her tone is positive throughout. There are also
romantic complications with Afrikaner farmers which do not quite
break her heart. I suspect that her ever-present but understated
faith has something to do with this.
The astonishing natural beauties of the Waterberg dominate many
of the letters; but she travels far and wide in her safaris, into
Namibia, Botswana, and Mozambique, too. Namibia, with its deserts
and sand dunes, sounds enchanting, as does the famous Okavango
Delta in Botswana, one of Africa's must-see attractions.
Also included are various letters from the two sisters whom
Neville left in England, which describe lives full of husbands,
horses, babies, and other animals, as well as a delightfully
eccentric mother. Perhaps Berkshire is never going to be as
exciting as Africa, but these letters are deeply amusing, and
reminded me, in their texture, of the "Home Life" column of Alice
Thomas Ellis in The Spectator some decades ago. The
sisters have an eye for
the absurd. Nothing really gets them down for long. Their
correspond-ence is an affirmation of all the reasons why life is,
in the end, such great fun.
Horsey people will adore this book, as will Africa enthusiasts,
but so, too, will all those who love to eavesdrop on the intimate
disclosures that make up the lives of others.
Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith is the author of Narrative
Theology and Moral Theology (Ashgate, 2007).