Magazine article The Spectator

Paradise Lost from the Start

Magazine article The Spectator

Paradise Lost from the Start

Article excerpt

Paradise lost from the start

Simon Courtauld

CHILD OF HAPPY VALLEY

by Juanita Carberry with Nicola Tyrer

Heinemann, L17.99, pp. 193

In the inter-war years in Kenya, the Earl of Erroll and his famously promiscuous wife Idina - she had been married twice before him and would marry twice again after him - formed the nucleus of what became known as the Happy Valley set. The Wanjohe river valley, in the foothills of the Aberdare mountains, was where most of them lived, but they were too busy enjoying the three As - Adultery, Altitude and Alcohol - to know that, in Kikuyu, wanjohe means `people of booze'. Juanita Carberry lived in another part of the White Highlands, outside Nyeri, at a house called Seremai, which means `place of death'. No one died there during her childhood years, but there was no happiness in her valley.

If parents can be charged today with child abuse for leaving their children unattended in a hotel bedroom (it happened to an English couple last month in Florida), one wonders what the schoolgirl Juanita's father, stepmother and governess deserved for the appalling physical, mental and, on one occasion, sexual abuse which she suffered over several years. She was beaten with a shoe-tree by her stepmother, with a rhino whip by her governess (watched by her father), locked in her room for days without regular meals, denied the glasses which she needed for reading, and compelled by her father to swim in a part of Mombasa harbour where a slaughterhouse attracted the sharks.

John Carberry was clearly a monster. He had inherited the Irish title of Lord Carbery and the family seat in county Cork, aptly named Castle Freke, but sold it after the first world war, changed the spelling of his name, became an American citizen and emigrated to Kenya. During the 1930s he was an outspoken admirer of Hitler. Understandably, Juanita Carberry wants to believe - the evidence is purely anecdotal - that her father was not Carberry but his business partner, Maxwell Trench, to whose house she often went when life became unbearable at Seremai. (This book is dedicated to Trench and his wife.) In this confused, amoral society Juanita was also unsure whether her mother, born Maia Anderson (she died in a flying accident aged 24), may have been the daughter of Rudolph Mayer, sometime owner of the East African Standard. The stepmother, June, was described by a contemporary as 'a drunken tart, and common with it'; the governess, Isabel Rutt, combined the sadism of John Carberry with June's promiscuity.

Juanita was sent to various schools, in Europe and South Africa, and when she wasn't being bullied or beaten at Seremai, she enjoyed the company of her pony and made friends with the natives, who called her nyawera (worker), distinguishing her from the indolent memsahibs. …

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