South African bestselling author Wilbur Smith has passed away at the age of 88. His publisher reported that he died unexpectedly yesterday, in the presence of his wife in Cape Town “after a morning of reading and writing”. The 49 books Smith wrote during his long career have sold more than 140 million copies worldwide. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages, among them Dutch.
Smith first appeared in the 1964 historical novel When the lion breastfeeds, translated into Dutch as Natal Gold. The book about the son of a South African farmer joins a group of prospectors quickly became a bestseller and had fifteen sequels, charting 200 years of the protagonist’s family history.
Smith himself was born in Zambia in 1933, the son of a British family who, like the protagonist, grew up on a farm. While studying at Rhodes University, his father pulled him out of a career in journalism, after which he became an accountant – a job he hated so much that he decided to ignore the advice of his authoritarian father and start writing after all.
Fisherman, diver, climber
American thriller writer Stephen King once described Smith as the best historical novelist. He is particularly known for his descriptions of the vibrant landscapes and characters in his stories.
Smith, who was a diver hunter and mountain climber, in addition to making use of his pilot’s license, said he enjoyed the extensive research he did for his adventure novels. This is how he worked for his book Gold mine Several weeks in a gold mine in South Africa and made many long trips to conduct historical research.
In his autobiography on leopard rock Smith wrote in 2018 that he lived a wonderful life. “Hard times, lost marriages, and aimless work nights, but in general have given me an extraordinary, more fulfilling and beautiful life,” he wrote. “I want to be remembered as someone who brought joy to millions of people.”
“Unable to type with boxing gloves on. Freelance organizer. Avid analyst. Friendly troublemaker. Bacon junkie.”