Wilbur Smith
Wilbur Smith

JOHANNESBURG: Zambian-born bestselling adventure author Wilbur Smith has died at his home in South Africa after a decades-long career in writing, his office said. He was 88.

With 49 titles under his belt, Smith became a household name, his swashbuckling adventure stories taking readers from tropical islands to the jungles of Africa and even Ancient Egypt and World War II.

“Global bestselling author Wilbur Smith died unexpectedly this afternoon at his Cape Town home after a morning of reading and writing with his wife Niso by his side,” said a statement released on Saturday on the Wilbur Smith Books website as well as by his publishers Bonnier Books UK.

“The undisputed and inimitable master of adventure writing, Wilbur Smith’s novels have gripped readers for over half a century, selling over 140 million copies worldwide in more than thirty languages.” The statements did not reveal the cause of death.

His 1964 debut novel “When the Lion Feeds”, the tale of a young man growing up on a South African cattle ranch, became an instant bestseller and led to 15 sequels, tracing an ambitious family’s fortunes for more than 200 years. Born in Zambia in 1933 to a British family, he was also a big game hunter, having grown up experiencing the forest, hills and savannah of Africa on his parents’ ranch.

He also held a pilot’s licence and was a scuba diver. As a conservationist, he managed his own game reserve and owned a tropical island in the Seychelles.

He credited his mother with teaching him to love nature and reading, while his father — a strict disciplinarian — gave him a rifle at the age of eight, the start of what he acknowledged was a lifelong love affair with firearms and hunting. He contracted cerebral malaria when he was just one-year-and-half — an ailment so serious there were fears he would die or be brain damaged, if he survived.

“It probably helped me because I think you have to be slightly crazy to try to earn a living from writing,” he later reflected.

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2021

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