Sorcerers and Orange Peel by Ian Mathie

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Sorcerers and Orange Peel by Ian Mathie

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: A fifth great tale from Ian Mathie. This time he rescues an old couple, is initiated into a tribal family, harvests orange oil and encounters sorcerers and witch doctors, all in the cause of his work as a water engineer in Africa.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 294 Date: January 2014
Publisher: Mosaique Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1906852276

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I can't understand why Ian Mathie isn't a more celebrated writer and commentator on African cultural affairs. I've never yet heard him on radio, re-telling episodes from his memorable life. Our loss. Africa is moving forward, but to understand the Africa of today we need to pay attention to its recent past as well as its early colonial history. Ian's unassuming witness of African tribes as they slowly emerged into the world of the 1970’s is unparalleled for its authenticity and depth of experience. This recent memoir is his best constructed yet; a seriously informative tale for anyone who wants to know about the real Africa beneath the surface of today’s mobile phones and pre-loved designer jeans.

Ian Mathie worked for the UK government as a water resources engineer in several North and West African countries. At this time, most of his subsistence farmer partners had never seen a white man, for the obvious reason that communications were infinitely worse forty years ago than they are today. This single fact explains the necessity of being able to fly a light plane, including clearing landing strips, or mending any part of a Land Rover from the tools he carried on board, quite apart from the daily inventivenss needed to bring water to dry areas. Think on, this simple fact also made complete self-sufficiency a given for his forays, by which I mean carrying enough water, food, medical supplies, tools and spares for weeks in the field at a time. Ian’s style was to pick over every scrap of help he gleaned from indigenous or educated sources. He doesn’t actually tell us much about his meticulous planning, but we can learn from his pragmatic attitude and humanitarian mindset. This book better prepares us mentally to face floods, storms and whatever else the weather throws at us in the next few months and years.

Brought up in Africa, Ian could usually make himself understood to local tribesmen. Importantly, his respect and fascination for tribal customs ensured that he was welcomed into local houses, including, in this book, finding himself initiated into an adoptive family by a traditional ceremony. Along the way he ruins his sump on an termite mound and stays in a House of Death, which turns out a most unusual traveller’s rest.

Sorcerers and witch doctors abound through this region of West Africa. Ian Mathie reports only what he has seen, felt and heard, and he is clearly not unduly imaginative or sensitive. Since I have developed a high regard for Ian’s veracity, built over five books, I believe that the mysterious events he describes undoubtedly occurred. It is up to the reader to supply a scientific explanation for extraordinary happenings.

Finally, Ian tells a interesting cautionary tale of commercial partnership between First and Third World. He managed to source a French perfumier to buy citrus oil harvested from an unwholesome area of orange groves. But as so often, African enterprise peters out after a few years. For all these reasons, I suggest you read this inspiring memoir, with its salutory message of reality.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a beautifully-polished narrative. Far too often, I review books where it’s clear that insufficient time spent editing newer authors’ writing is the major downfall of the work. It’s a real pleasure to read a book, for once, where the editing is as tight as the writing.

If you are interested in commercial development, I’d suggest looking at a present-day African entrepreneur’s difficulties in A Good African Story: How a Small Company Built a Global Coffee Brand by Andrew Rugasira. As an antidote to Ian Mathie’s necessarily dated story, a powerful contemporary novel is We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. A difficult choice, but Bride Price by Ian Mathie is probably my favourite of his preceding four books, because it also shows the author ‘going native’ in a good cause.

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Buy Sorcerers and Orange Peel by Ian Mathie at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sorcerers and Orange Peel by Ian Mathie at

Booklists.jpg Sorcerers and Orange Peel by Ian Mathie is in the Top Ten Autobiographies 2014.


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Ian Mathie said on 30 May 2014:

I thought you might be interested to know that the Warwick Words Festival of Literature and the Spoken Word is on next week. As part of that I will be holding a debate based on my new African memoir, Sorcerers and Orange Peel, with former BBC journalist, noted biographer and arch sceptic James Andrew Taylor, on the topic ‘Sorcerers and Sceptics’ The event takes place on 8th June and details are on the Warwick Words website. Any Bookbaggers who are in the Warwick area and want to come along will be most welcome.