Book Review: 'Wildflower' by Mark Seal

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Sunday, May 31, 2009


By Mark Seal. 232 pp. $26

A five-sentence obituary with the headline "Conservationist Killed" inspired Vanity Fair journalist Mark Seal's biography of documentary filmmaker Joan Root, who was murdered in Kenya in 2006. The modest obituary suited a woman who spent much of her life behind the scenes of the groundbreaking wildlife films she made with her husband, Alan Root -- coaxing the animals out of hiding, rescuing her husband after a hot-air balloon crash and packing up their Land Rover with supplies for month-long shoots. Root was so quiet, self-effacing and stoic that her only response to being stung by a scorpion (on her honeymoon, no less) was a demure "Oh."

It took a threat to her beloved animals to break Root out of this meekness. She refused to abandon her Lake Naivasha home -- and the hippos, birds and snakes that lived nearby -- when fish poachers thrust her neighborhood into lawlessness. Was her murder a robbery gone wrong, as the police insist, or were poachers fed up with the woman who stood between them and their profits? More significant than Seal's investigation into Root's murder is his portrait of this extraordinary adventurer, whose life story is also being developed into a film, with Julia Roberts as star and producer.

-- Rachel Saslow

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