How is it that an untrained, self-taught observer and writer could see things that professional anthropologists often missed? Read more...
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How is it that an untrained, self-taught observer and writer could see things that professional anthropologists often missed? How is that a pioneering woman, working in male-dominated fields, without sponsors or credentials, could accomplish more than so many more celebrated and professionally educated men could manage? How can we all unlock the wisdom of the world simply by paying close attention?
With their intelligence and acute insight into other cultures and species, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas's many books have won a wide and loving audience. In "A Million Years with You," this legendary author shares stories from her life, showing how a formative experience in South West Africa (now Namibia) in the 1950s taught her how to pay attention to the ancient wisdom of animals and humankind.
As a young woman, Marshall Thomas joined her family on an anthropological expedition to the Kalahari Desert, where she conducted fieldwork among the Ju/wa Bushmen, later publishing her findings as "The Harmless People." After college, a wedding, and the birth of two children, she returned to Uganda shortly before Idi Amin's bloody coup. Her skills as an observer and a writer would be put to the test on many other occasions working with dogs, cats, cougars, deer and with more personal struggles. "A Million Years with You" is a powerful memoir from a pioneering woman, an icon of American letters.
- ISBN-13: 9780547763958
- ISBN-10: 0547763956
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
- Publish Date: June 2013
- Page Count: 304
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-04-01
- Reviewer: Staff
This memoir by naturalist Thomas (The Hidden Life of Dogs) is at once lofty and personal, mundane and impressive. What ultimately holds the book together are her powers of observation and particular experiences: extensive travels; encounters with the animal world; the love and loss of family; struggles with alcohol; and her writing life. Though Thomas allows her memories to wander nonchronologically, the end result feels thoughtful. The heart of the book centers on Thomas’s multiple trips to Africa, including her first, formative trip to the Kalahari Desert with her family when she was in college. She later returned to Africa on assignment for the New Yorker and found herself in Uganda during the horrific rise of Idi Ami, an experience so terrifying that it halted her writing and escalated her alcohol consumption. A chapter paying tribute to Thomas’s parents is the high point of the book. The book describes the author’s loss of her beloved parents, nearly fatal accidents involving both her children, and her experience of the terrible bloodshed in Africa, but Thomas follows her own advice to “live in the moment,” realizing, “if nothing bad is actually in progress, most moments are quite pleasant.” (June)
Her own hidden life
Known for translating her observations of people and animals into powerful literary prose, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas now studies her own history in the memoir A Million Years With You.
Thomas’ story testifies to the value of curiosity. When she was just 18, she dropped out of college to join an anthropological expedition, headed by her father, to the Kalahari Desert, where they would meet with isolated tribes of Bushmen. Others have speculated that Thomas’ father, Laurence Marshall, wanted to get reacquainted with his family after his work during World War II resulted in many long separations, but Thomas says there was much more to the experience. “I’m sure we didn’t go [to Africa] merely so that Dad could know us better,” she writes. “We went because he liked wild places.” Her father, perhaps the most influential person in her life, encouraged his daughter to explore wilderness both near and far.
Thomas continued to explore and observe, even after marriage and the birth of her two children. She sought research opportunities and continued to travel to Africa, including trips to Uganda and Nigeria during periods of terrifying political unrest in the 1960s, experiences that would deeply shake her. She also wrote about subjects closer to home; her book The Hidden Life of Dogs was a bestseller.
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has been described by a close friend as “strong as a snow leopard, tough as Genghis Khan.” In A Million Years With You she also recounts her weaker moments with humor and honesty, including her struggles with alcohol addiction, serious family crises and the realities of aging. Now in her 80s, Thomas retains her lively curiosity about the world. “As has been said,” she writes, “while wandering down the road of life, it helps to look for something more meaningful than oneself, and I’ve never had to look far to find it, from the stars when I look up to the soil when I look down.”