For every taste and budget, a paperback

The Mottled Lizard, by Elspeth Huxley. New York: Penguin Books. 334 pp. $3.95 .

Some of this century's most beautiful literature has sprung from the heart of a deep love of Africa. Elspeth Huxley's sequel to ''The Flame Trees of Thika'' -- which was made into a PBS ''Masterpiece Theater'' series -- is reminiscent of Laurens van der Post in its tenderness and vibrancy, but her style and her vision are her own.

The book is set in colonial Kenya, the narrative picking up with Huxley's return to Africa after World War I and closing with her reluctant departure to be schooled in England. The characters are described with understatement, humor, and affection; the wildlife and landscapes are full-blown, lush, and vivid.

The book is imbued with the spirit of quest, which led Huxley's parents to press ever deeper into the unbroken land, sowing seeds of change even while they mourned the effects of this change. It is filled, too, with a deepening reverence for life.

Huxley's acute powers of observation and description qualify the book for many re-readings; it is filled with a sense of grandeur, timelessness, and wonder. The child's-eye view of the universe is authentic, and is handled with subtlety and restraint.

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