When reading a book we know the author is truly connected to their setting when we’re able to feel the environment through the pages. It’s when we can sense the smell in the air, we can hear the sounds of background chatter and we can feel the texture of the earth that we know we are reading the work of an author indelibly connected to the place they are writing about.
That is the case for Wilbur Smith, an author whose love, respect and infatuation with the lands of Africa transport us there with only the inking of his words. Born in Rhodesia, what is now Zambia, Smith has written more than twenty novels, and sold over 120 million copies worldwide. Most famous for two collections, The Courtney family novels and The Ballantyne family novels, they tell the incredible story of southern Africa over the course of the last two centuries, through the eyes of the families who have lived through it.
It is a connection to the land so that defines Africa and its people, and Smith’s work truthfully explores the history of this connection, its struggles, its volatile history, and its beautiful way of life. In the novel series, Smith paints a picture so real you feel you are in it, the way of life practiced in the region of hunting and mining immerses you in a world unique in its defining connection with the land. Smith is able to do it so well that we can learn how the Africa we discover today was formed. As the later novels reach life in the modern day, we gain an authentic understanding of what makes Africa so special; the sacrifices that were made, the challenges that were overcome, and the differences that were reconciled to create the modern day Africa.
It is a journey not always covered in glory, but Smith never cloaks it in fantasy. Although it may be fiction, Smith’s narrative is one of the most genuine and truthful depictions of Africa and its history. By reading Smith’s novels, we felt a light had been shone on the story of Africa’s history, diversity, and culture, a story that had remained shrouded in the darkness of controversy and misunderstanding to much of the world for so long.