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Shaun de Waal | Wilbur Smith: A racist and sexist child of the British empire

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Writer Wilbur Smith at the Turin Egyptian Museum. (Photo: Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images)
Writer Wilbur Smith at the Turin Egyptian Museum. (Photo: Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images)

Bestselling novelist Wilbur Smith, who recently died at the age of 88, is said to have been a "beloved author" and to have left "a wonderful legacy" – but he was undeniably racist and sexist, in the tradition of a British imperialist, writes Shaun de Waal.

Born in Zambia and raised in what was then Rhodesia, he was a fan of the novels of John Buchan and Rider Haggard, classic writers of the adventure novels of British imperialism set in Africa, whose attitudes he reproduced. His first novel, When the Lion Feeds, was published in 1964 and became a global success, leading to a long career in which he sold about 140 million books and was translated into 30 languages. He wrote 49 novels and a memoir during his life.

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