It’s rare for a memoir about a family living a truly unique lifestyle to be so genuine in its telling and so accessible to readers who have never lived, and may not have ever visited or even imagined living, in one of the world’s most famous wildlife parks. But Kobie Krüger does a skillful job of creating a warm and vibrant depiction of the reality of the South African Lowveld in her family’s memoir The Wilderness Family: At Home with Africa’s Wildlife and passionately conveys the adventures and trying incidents experienced by her family.
The memoir encapsulates the family’s experiences in the bush, the southern African wilderness, coexisting with Kruger National Park’s wildlife, employees, and mostly avoiding the hundreds of thousands of people that visit the park each year (today, the park gets around two million annual visitors!).
Kobie Krüger’s role as wife, mother, and homemaker plays a central role in the narration, but her perspective adds a warm, close-knit feel that draws the reader into the life and ordeals of the charming family. The memoir, which spans from roughly 1980 to the 1990s, unfolds in mostly a chronological order and is given form through the author’s careful unveiling of the unique and wild world which she and her game warden husband Kobus live in along with their three children. Individual events get their own chapter, making some chapters quite short, but they’re often entertaining and enjoyable. With quick, heartwarming anecdotes interspersed with longer chapters of the family’s challenges living in the wild, the memoir becomes hard to put down. But there is also an interesting twist to the way that chapters are packaged together which brings wholeness to their time in Mahlangeni, contrasting it with later chapters that take place in other regions of the vast park as well as trips to other countries.
Tales including the Krüger children as they grow up help to bridge these different periods, though it can feel a bit jumpy in parts as some details are glossed over or the author reminisces about an event when the children were younger. The stories involving pets, farm animals, and a variety of exciting wildlife are an integral part of the family’s story and also emphasize the remoteness of the Kruger family from basic needs and modern services.
The care and effort put into protecting and raising wildlife culminates with the adoption of an orphaned, days-old lion cub. The lion’s story is the focal point of the second half of the book and readers will receive a firsthand account of what it is like to live with a lion cub in the home, the natural instincts, and what it takes to teach a lion how to grow to his full potential.
Gareth Patterson, famed lion researcher, makes an appearance in The Wilderness Family. He is the author of several books of his own relating to his efforts to conserve and understand the African lion, including My Lion’s Heart: A Life for the Lions of Africa (2014). While he does not feature for very long in the Krüger family’s memoir, readers that enjoyed learning about the lion’s upbringing in the Krüger household will likely enjoy reading about Patterson’s continuing work in Africa as well as details of lion instincts, behavior, and the challenges involved in raising lions and what considerations must be made before lions can be attempted to be released back into the wild.
Nature and animal lovers are sure to enjoy The Wilderness Family and its wide cast of characters and wildlife which include a baby genet and caracal. Kobus Krüger’s occupation as game warden is touched on long enough that readers will be able to gain a respect for, and basic understanding of, some of the responsibilities of those charged with protecting the wilderness. The hardcover as well as the Kindle editions of the book includes several color photographs, a great bonus that brings to life the family and their sub-adult lion. The format of the memoir makes it a very easy read that might be hard for some people to put down while being easy for others to pick up for a short interval for a brief immersion into daily life in the southern African wilderness.
Other Books by the Author:
Kobie Krüger has written two other English language books about her family’s life in South Africa. Mahlangeni: Stories of a Game Ranger’s Family is essentially a “director’s cut” of the first half of The Wilderness Family while All Things Wild and Wonderful encompasses the second half. She also has at least two of her books published in Afrikaans.