Chameleon Days: An American Boyhood in Ethiopia

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Jun 14, 2006 - Biography & Autobiography - 255 pages
“Moves beyond a compelling personal story to shed radiant light on history itself . . . an essential chronicle of midcentury American idealism.” —Patricia Hampl, author of The Art of the Wasted Day

In 1964, at the age of three, Tim Bascom is thrust into a world of eucalyptus trees and stampeding baboons when his family moves from the Midwest to Ethiopia. The unflinchingly observant narrator of this memoir reveals his missionary parents’ struggles in a sometimes hostile country. Sent reluctantly to boarding school in the capital, young Tim finds that beyond the gates enclosing that peculiar, isolated world, conflict roils Ethiopian society. When secret riot drills at school are followed with an attack by rampaging students near his parents’ mission station, Tim witnesses the disintegration of his family’s African idyll as Haile Selassie’s empire begins to crumble.

Like Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Chameleon Days chronicles social upheaval through the keen yet naive eyes of a child. Bascom offers readers a fascinating glimpse of missionary life, much as Barbara Kingsolver did in The Poisonwood Bible.

“Such precision in voice earned Bascom the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference Bakeless Prize, and his smartly na´ve observations grow more sophisticated as the country succumbs to political unrest in the 1970s and missionary life becomes uncertain. Nostalgic but not overwrought, Bascom’s memoir is accented with casual family snapshots like ribbons on the gift of a gently captured place in time.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Bascom, son of missionaries, illuminates the Ethiopia of his childhood in this Bakeless Prize–winning memoir . . . A stirring tribute to a turbulent, beautifully evoked era.” —Kirkus Reviews

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About the author (2006)

Tim Bascom spent much of his childhood in Ethiopia, where his father, a doctor, worked in mission hospitals. A graduate of the nonfiction writing program at the University of Iowa, he has been published in The Best American Travel Writing. He lives in Newton, Iowa, with his wife and two sons.

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