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Saturday, December 18, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

One man's dream in Africa

Special to The Seattle Times


Christina Lamb is the author of "The Sewing Circles of Heart: A Personal Voyage Through Afghanistan," which tells of the history, culture and geography of that troubled country and serves as a record of the indomitable will of its people to survive, to prevail and to preserve their culture. Against impossible odds, women create "sewing circles" and, under their cover, gather what they can of literature and poetry to save them for posterity.

In "The Africa House," Lamb has taken on a story just as unlikely and dangerous but filled with the same degree of passion: to create rather than to preserve.

"The African House: The True Story of an English Gentleman and His African Dream"

by Christina Lamb
HarperCollins, 352 pp., $25.95

Lamb, an award-winning British journalist, travels to Zambia, once Northern Rhodesia, to see the estate of Stewart Gore-Browne, English gentleman. Her initial reaction was: "More than anywhere I had ever seen, Shiwa Ngandu seemed to symbolize the arrogance, paternalism, vision, and sheer bloody-mindedness of British colonials in Africa." Built, literally, in the middle of nowhere, it was the realization of one man's African dream.

Gore-Browne, though to the manor born, found himself at 31 with a too-small annual income and few prospects. Another man might have sought his fortune in a wife, but Gore-Browne was unusually close to his Aunt Ethel, several years his senior, and hadn't the courage to propose to Lorna, the one other woman he cared anything about.

When the border commission, charged with marking out the borders of Belgian Congo and Northern Rhodesia, beckoned Gore-Stewart accepted with alacrity. His fate was sealed. He would live in Africa, he would build an English manor house there, and he would try to lure Aunt Ethel to join him.

Not all his dreams came true — indeed, he eventually married "Lorna II," the first Lorna's daughter — but the estate, Shiwa Ngandu, was built. Visitors to the estate saw a palace in the bush "with its arched terraces, rose gardens, wine cellars, magnificent library and crocodile lake," with five-course meals served by uniformed servants in pillbox hats.

This is more than a simple tale of obsession; it is a stunning description of a time, a place, a man and two countries' politics.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company