963: Chameleon Days by Tom Bascom

by Gerard


963.06092: Bascom, Tom. Chameleon Days: An American Boyhood in Ethiopia. New York: Mariner, 2006. 236 p. ISBN 978-0-618-65869-5.

Dewey Breakdown:

• 900: History and Geography
• 960: History of Africa
• 963: History of Ethiopia and Eritrea
• 963.06: History of Ethiopia from 1941 to 1974
• +092: Biography

In 1964, the Bascom family moved from Kansas to Ethiopia. Tom Bascom’s father was a doctor and a religious man, and so, felt a calling to help struggling folks in Africa with both medicine and faith. At the time, little Tommy was just three years old and had to adjust to a completely new set of circumstances. Bascom’s Chameleon Days is a grand look at the both the small scale details of living in Ethiopia as a American and the social and religious landscape of the country under Haile Selassie.

Everything here is filtered through both the experiences of Tom the young child and Tom the narrator. The years at the Soddo missionary camp and his experiences at the local boarding school leave Bascom at an interesting crossroads of personal reflection, world history, and social responsibility. There are noticeable collisions of faith all around him as folks refuse to go to the missionary hospital for fear of the Christians. The good thing about this book is that it isn’t all preachy, and Bascom’s writing is about as genuine as one would expect from someone who grew up in this environment.

Throughout the larger narrative, it’s the microscopic details that are the best—the changes in the chameleon he keep as a pet, the construction of a weaver bird’s nest, the smell of the red earth. This is where Bascom is at his best. I grew up in Europe as a military dependent and the experiences of a child who has to learn a new culture resonated well with me. A great many people can find a footing here, not just evangelicals or memoir enthusiasts. It’s a decent book, with a very interesting tale to tell.