Then SHE was BORN, by Cristiano Gentili is a fact based novel originally published as Ombra Bianco in Italian by Ota Benga Editore. This e-book version has been translated by Lori Hetherington and represents part of an effort to support a “campaign supported by eleven Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, the Dali Lama and Pope Francis” to bring further awareness of, and help for, African Albinos.
Plot: The father of the protagonist is immediately aware that this albino girl born to him and his wife in a small rural area, is a disgrace to the family. She is a zeru zeru (Swahili name for an invisible, ghostly ‘thing’ of witchery and magical powers) that can bring disaster to the village. Thus she is to be left in the jungle to die or worse, to be discovered by individuals constantly looking for such persons. The reason – bodily parts of such individuals are worth large amounts of money from local medicine men/soothsayers who make various ‘good luck charms’ and potions from these parts. The grandmother, however, through adroit maneuvering, prevails and is given the girl to raise. She even is able to obtain a name for her through persuasive means with the local Catholic Priest. As Adimu reaches school age she is permitted to attend but is shunned by all and each time she sees a glimmer of acceptance, it is dashed because her ‘acceptance’ is only as a means of some specific gain for the accepting associate(s). Her story continues through constant similar and even more crushing episodes and mostly dangerous encounters resulting from her uniqueness. It is an existence that places her in suspension between being feared and shunned by most because of her different appearance and simultaneously being hunted by others because of the value placed upon her bodily parts. Numerous other influential characters are involved in the tale, especially Charles Fielding, the highly influential gold mine owner and his wife Sarah. Some of the characters are totally unenlightened, others partially so, and still others supposedly totally enlightened but suffering from overwhelming psychological burdens resultant from childhood happenings.
Discussion: This book is written by a man with degrees in Political Science, Humanitarian Assistance and Social Science, who journeyed to Tanzania in 2011 to assess the living conditions of native born albinos in this totally black society with its firm beliefs in sorcery, demons and the like. It is an enthralling story with all of the elements of a thriller as one suspenseful situation follows another and the heartache of the child is empathetically presented. Additionally demonstrated to varying degrees are the existence of greed, position/recognition importance and the lengths to which desperate individuals will go to attain their goals. The attitudes attributed to the old Rhodesian Afrikaners are brought into the mix and, although exaggerated to a degree, can be accepted when considering the mentally affecting manner of Charles’s childhood and that of his wife Sarah.
Conclusion: An enthralling suspenseful tale with faults that can be ignored because of the importance of the subject. (See Help African Albinos)
4* Enthralling, suspenseful fact based novel.