Wilbur Smith, the chronicler of African adventures, dies – Times of India

Internationally acclaimed author Wilbur Smith died at his home in South Africa on November 13, 2021. Smith was 88. The news of his death was announced by his office on Twitter. Here’s what they said:

With a career spanning over decades, Smith had 49 titles under his belt. His swashbuckling adventure stories took readers from tropical islands to the jungles of Africa and even Ancient Egypt and World War II.

The statement did not reveal the cause of Smith’s sudden death.

Action-packed life
Born in Zambia, Wilbur Smith chronicled dramatic adventures on the African continent, the popularity of which made him a household name among readers. He created internationally-acclaimed fiction that drew on his own action-packed life.

He gained recognition in 1964 with his debut novel “When the Lion Feeds”, the tale of a young man growing up on a South African cattle ranch which led to 15 sequels, tracing the ambitious family’s fortunes for more than 200 years.

“I wove into the story chunks of early African history. I wrote about black people and white. I wrote about hunting and gold mining and carousing and women,” he said in a biography on his official website.

He also leant on meticulous historical research and his own extensive travels, establishing a method he would use over a career spanning five decades in which he wrote nearly 50 novels and sold about 130 million books.

Another golden rule came from his publisher, Charles Pick. “He said: ‘Write only about those things you know well.’ Since then I have written only about Africa,” Smith said.

Born on January 9, 1933 to a British family in what was then Northern Rhodesia, Smith encountered from an early age the forest, hills and savannah of Africa on his parents’ large ranch.

He credits his mother with teaching him to love nature and reading, while his father gave him a rifle at the age of eight, the start of what he acknowledged was a lifelong love affair with firearms and hunting.

“There are more big-game hunters in Smith’s oeuvre than spies in the works of John le Carre, and yet it is possible that he has slaughtered even more animals in real life than on the page,” Britain’s Daily Telegraph wrote in 2014.

Also a scuba diver and mountain climber in his time, Smith was not afraid to throw himself into his research, saying that for his 1970 novel “Gold Mine” he took a job in a South African gold mine for a few weeks.

“I was a sort of privileged member of the team, I could ask questions and not be told to shut up,” he told the Daily Telegraph of his experience.

Smith studied at South Africa’s Rhodes University, intending to become a journalist until his father said, as he recounts on his website, “Don’t be a bloody fool … Go and find yourself a real job.”

There followed a “soul-destroying” stint as a chartered accountant, during which he turned to fiction.

The success with “When the Lion Feeds” encouraged him to become a full-time writer and lead to the Courtney series, which runs up to “The Tiger’s Prey” published in 2017, more than 50 years after the first book.

The four-part Ballantyne series is themed on colonial wealth and the racial struggle in the former Rhodesia, today’s Zimbabwe. There is also a series on Egypt, while standalone novels include “The Sunbird” (1972) and “Those in Peril” (2011).

His books have been translated into around 30 languages and some made into films, including “Shout at the Devil” with Lee Marvin and Roger Moore in 1976.

Describing Smith as the “ultimate action-man author”, Britain’s Daily Mail in 2017 remarked that it was perhaps surprising his books still appeal considering their “politically incorrect whirl of sex, violence, casual misogyny, big-game hunters, mining, full-breasted women and slaughtered beasts”.

Answering a question on his site about the secret of his success, he says it is about “embroidering” a bit on real life.

“I write about men who are more manly and beautiful women who are really more beautiful than any women you’d meet,” he said, confirming he sometimes worked with co-writers.

Published in 2018, his autobiography “On Leopard Rock” chronicled his own adventures — the raw material for his fiction — including being attacked by lions, getting lost in the African bush and crawling through the precarious tunnels of gold mines.

He was married four times, with his last wife, Mokhiniso Rakhimova from Tajikistan, his junior by 39 years.

Smith spent most of his time in South Africa and had homes in Cape Town, London, Switzerland and Malta.

(With inputs from AFP)

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