Cover image for Teller of many tales : the lives of Laurens van der Post
Teller of many tales : the lives of Laurens van der Post
Jones, J. D. F.
Personal Author:
First Carroll and Graf edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2002.

Physical Description:
x, 505 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits, maps ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
PR9369.3.V33 Z74 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The celebrated Laurens van der Post made a life of lies. Those who know him as the advisor of Prince Charles and Margaret Thatcher, author of twenty-three popular, award-winning books, (several of which were made into films) and a speaker for the cause of African peoples will be startled by the revelations in this fascinating biography of a consummate fabricator. Among the romantic highlights in van der Post's version of his life were an Afrikaner childhood that featured a Bushman nursemaid, decorated military service, a brutal stretch as a POW in the Pacific, his devoted friendship with Carl Jung, and his sympathetic chronicles of the Kalahari Bushmen. Peeling away van der Post's stories, J. D. F. Jones's biography shows that most of his tales were tall-designed to dazzle an all-too-gullible world. In reality, van der Post had no Bushman nanny; his World War II military service, for which he abandoned his wife and children, was not particularly distinguished; and his relationshipwith Jung was tenuous at most. He also advised Britain's elite, although his credentials were only a tissue of invention that he kept aloft until his death at age ninety in 1996. While disclosing van der Post's many fictions, Jones never loses sight of his very real charisma and the widespread devotion he inspired. At once probing and unsparing, Teller of Many Tales is also a model of biographic balance and illumination. ... a fantasist, a liar, a serial adulterer... It was to this man that Lady Thatcher turned for advice... Devastating... "-Sunday Telegraph"

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In this revisionist biography of South African author Sir Laurens van der Post, whose writing attracted international attention in the postwar era, Jones applauds Laurens (as he preferred to be called) for his deftly wrought popular fiction but finds a plethora of sheer fabrications behind the author's nonfiction work and his claims about his own life. Assertions, for example, that Laurens suffered a mortar wound during the war and that he was offered a diplomatic post by Winston Churchill all dissolve under scrutiny. Less blatant but still unsettling are Laurens' offenses in overstating his knowledge of the Kalahari Bushmen, about whom he wrote extensively. Jones also argues that had Laurens not parlayed his self-aggrandizing fantasies into credentials for advising Margaret Thatcher, perhaps the prime minister would have handled African issues more adroitly. With the late Laurens out of the public eye, this biography will attract less interest than it once might have, but in an age when the abuses of authorship are much in the news, the story of this less-than-candid writer has considerable resonance. --Bryce Christensen

Publisher's Weekly Review

Once, when departing South African Bushman country, Laurens van der Post (1906-1996) wrote, I am sad to leave this land of my childhood. Jones adds immediately that the area had nothing to do with Laurens's childhood. So goes this curious life of the novelist, travel writer, adviser to Margaret Thatcher and Prince Charles, and self-styled celebrity who was also, as it turned out, an obsessive fabricator who lived off half-truths and fictional facts. When van der Post, the author of such celebrated books as Venture to the Interior, A Far-Off Place, Journey into Russia and The Lost World of the Kalahari, died, a doctor who knew him too well, when asked the cause of his death, suggested that he had become weary of sustaining so many lies. In fact, according to Jones, almost nothing he wrote or said about his life stands up to biographical scrutiny. Although van der Post was an authentic adventurer and survivor of a Japanese prison camp in Java, he also parlayed his immense charm and the editorial skills of his put-upon second wife into nonfiction bestsellers that embellished his experiences in exotic locales he actually visited only briefly. Jones, a journalist and novelist (The Buchan Papers), cuts a path through the camouflage and distortion at which the author so excelled. Though there are some longueurs to overcome (especially the plot summaries of van der Post's many books), Jones's exposE, often surprisingly generous to its slippery subject, is admirably researched and difficult to put down though lovers of van der Post's work may be shocked. 16 pages of b&w photos. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Though Laurens van der Post (1906-96) is best remembered as a close friend to Prince Charles and an adviser to Margaret Thatcher, he was also an advocate for the cause of African peoples and an author of nearly 30 works of fiction and nonfiction (including The Seed and the Sower, which was made into the movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence). Readers will be surprised to learn that much of what van der Post boasted of his friendship with Carl Jung, his time as a World War II POW, his Afrikaner childhood with a Bushman nanny simply didn't happen. In this intriguing new biography, Jones carefully works to separate the facts from the fictions of van der Post's life. Though he shows that van der Post invented a great deal of his life experiences, Jones also relates his charismatic personality and the very real contributions he made to easing the plight of the Bushmen. How van der Post successfully kept his fabrications a secret and charmed his way into the public eye makes for fascinating reading. Jones has written a readable and well-documented biography, the first major study of van der Post's life since his death in 1996. For academic libraries. Ron Ratliff, Kansas State Univ., Manhattan (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.