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Memoir review: Flying Cats and Flip Flops

December 7, 2017

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I’ve just finished this memoir and it’s left me amazed, puzzled, fascinated and touched. What a strangely compelling book.

Written on Terry Johnson’s behalf by his son, Paul, it tells the story of how Terry, exasperated with his kleptomaniac, compulsive obsessive wife and his uninspiring life, packed his bags and set off to Kenya. Why Kenya? He and his wife went there on holiday after winning a competition and he was instantly hooked, so when planning his escape, this was the obvious choice as far as he was concerned.

Terry’s new start in Kenya began easily enough. He stayed in hotels, got to know local people and took up with a local girl. It wasn’t long, however, before his money ran out and he had to try and fund his life there. The trouble was he was 58, white and not particularly employable. His solution was to start drug smuggling.

And this is where my amazement and puzzlement came from. In the book, Terry is portrayed as a canny, likeable and resourceful man. He was a keen observer and his quick wits got him out of no end of risky situations. He was also kind and caring towards the desperately poor people he encountered, so why on earth he decided drug smuggling was a reasonable occupation left me completely bemused. Perhaps he was essentially lazy, but I couldn’t help feeling he could have found a better pursuit than this. Of course he was eventually caught and I won’t spoil the story by giving too much away, but yes, he survived 18 months in a Kenyan prison in unspeakable conditions.

But survive he did with his dignity and personality intact. He accepted his fate completely, yet even so, I never had the feeling he really regretted what he’d done. Not as far as I could tell, despite fully acknowledging that he’d broken the law.

The final chapters of the book were very touching and poignant as he went home to care for the wife he’d left some years before; again, a move that belied his apparent lack of conscience about being a drug smuggler.

The book is well written in a flowing, easy style although I felt it needed editing in places. Overall, it is a riveting read with some incredible insights into how Kenya operates on the ground, including all the corruption, the cruelty and the scams.  It is human, amusing, chilling, awful and astonishing, and I really enjoyed it.  I’ve given it 4 stars, but it would definitely have had 5 with a cleaner edit, and I’d recommend it without hesitation!

Here is a link to the book on Amazon.

It is currently selling for the bargain price of .99p/c for the Kindle version

 

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