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Under the Camelthorn Tree: The Impact of Trauma on One Family

Kate Nicholls

8 Reviews

Rated 0

Southern Africa, Memoirs, Travel writing

A mother's gritty yet often humorous account of family life in Africa, and the consequences of a violent event on each of them.

Kate Nicholls left England to raise her five children in Botswana: an experience that would change each of their lives. Living on a shoestring in a lion conservation camp, Kate home-schools her family under a camelthorn tree while they also learn at first hand about the individual lives of wild lions. Their deep attachment to these magnificent animals is palpable.


This contemporary, gritty and humorous memoir explores the shocking impact of PTSD on a close-knit family, and their eventual recovery. It is a timely book that shines a light on an aspect of sexual crime that is often shrouded in shame: children of parents with PTSD can suffer collateral damage. The character-driven narrative moves effectively across time and place, revealing the gradual fragmentation of a strong woman. Kate Nicholls pulls no punches and her passion to act as advocate for the secondary victims of trauma is expressed in raw, unsentimental prose. She skilfully counterbalances this with amusing insight into family life. She explores the universal challenges of child-rearing with wit and engaging honesty, offering an unsanitised insight into raising a family in the African bush.

Kate Nicholls' tightly constructed narrative has received widespread praise and she made a much-acclaimed appearance at the Hay Festival with Jane Garvey in May 2019.

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Praise for Under the Camelthorn Tree: The Impact of Trauma on One Family

  • An astonishing story ... Nicholls carries us through her experiences with a searing honesty that for me was hugely educational and deeply moving.

  • A life lived beyond the dreams of most of us. It's a real page-turner - Jeremy Irons

  • Bursting with humour, intelligence and fierce humanity, Under the Camelthorn Tree takes you on a breathtaking journey: anthropological and personal. It is an unflinchingly brave, generous book filled with the wisdom of one who has seen both the beauty and the darkness the world has to give - Sophie Dahl

  • A wonderfully rich and honest memoir of an extraordinary life by an extraordinary person. A book that somehow manages to be both charming and challenging, a bit like Africa herself. The writing is as light as a sonnet but it is the honesty that anchors it to reality - a special book - Tim Butcher

  • Under the Camelthorn Tree is remarkable, wild as a pride of lions -- heartbreaking, relentlessly truthful, funny. Kate Nicholls steps into life's beauties and hardships with a rare and extraordinary courage: you will love this book, and love Kate too - Erica Wagner, Harper's Bazaar

  • A sort of Life Force personified, a whirlwind of love and motherhood and science; beautiful woman, brutally true, impossibly brave, impossibly stylish, just plain bloody impossible. Self-taught in science, this poet of the Okavango home-schooled - right through to good universities - four remarkable children in a remote camp surrounded by individually known, radio-tracked lions. After tirelessly working to rehabilitate Botswana's rape victims, her own horrific rape and its aftermath threatened to destroy her life and the family idyll but . . . well, read the whole beautiful book to the end. You'll never see another memoir like this

  • 'Under The Camelthorn Tree is a breathtaking memoir written with an abundance of wit, honesty and love. Over the course of a page I found myself weeping, giggling, inspired, challenged, but never lectured to. Kate's humour is infectious, her honesty and vulnerability emboldening and her language precise in conjuring the sights, sounds and smells of her unique journey' - Harry Michell

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Kate Nicholls

Kate was born in England in 1954 and raised in a theatrical family. Kate left home and school age sixteen, and supported herself working at numberless odd jobs, until she began a successful television and theatre career playing leading roles at the RSC and the National Theatre. In her thirties she read a book that changed her life and she gave up acting to study biology. Between 1976 and 1994, she had six children with whom she has travelled widely.

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