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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


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Myers, Tamar: The Witch Doctor's Wife

  Amazon  

4.5 stars

Note: Review copy received from publisher. Amazon affiliate: Links pointing to Amazon contain my affiliate ID. Sales resulting from clicks on those links will earn me a percentage of the purchase price.

Tamar Myers' The Witch Doctor's Wife is set in the Belgian Congo in 1958. There are increasing demands at this time for Congolese independence from Belgian rule. But before they are compelled to cede power to the natives, the Belgians mean to extract as much profit as possible from the country's diamond mines. The town of Belle Vue, situated near a waterfall in the Kasai River, is largely under the authority of the mining consortium that owns the mineral rights to much of the surrounding area. The social divide between the white colonialists and the black natives is enormous, almost unbridgeable, and most of the Belgians in the country are racist and dictatorial in their relationships with the natives.

Against this backdrop Myers introduces a handful of characters: a witch doctor/post office groundskeeper and his two wives, the witch doctor's Belgian boss, a young American missionary, a Portuguese store owner. There is also a mysterious Nigerian who flies into the country with the missionary and then makes himself scarce for reasons that are not at once divulged. Myers explores what happens to this cast when one of them discovers an impossibly large gem, a diamond larger than anything that's ever been found in the area. It's worth a fortune, but profiting from it, given the iron grip of the Consortium on the country's resources, may not be possible.

The Witch Doctor's Wife is an unusual and unusually interesting read. It offers fascinating information about the culture of the Belgian Congo--the author was born and raised there--both within the story proper and in the explanatory paragraphs with which each chapter opens. The book defies the reader's expectations, in part because some of the story's threads end quite abruptly. One could argue that this is bad storytelling: to an extent it feels like the author is cheating, cutting out complications with, say, a death that comes out of nowhere. But I didn't feel cheated myself, just intrigued by the author's strange decisions. The one thing I did have trouble with is a decision made by one of the characters, a brave bit of selflessness that motivates much of what happens at the end of the book. But the decision that character made was an irrational one, I think, the sacrifice offered unnecessary under the circumstances (as far as I can see), so that to my mind much of the book's plot rests on an unacceptable premise. (This complaint is very vague I understand, but I don't want to give anything away.)

Despite this one difficulty, I enjoyed this book very much, and I highly recommend it.

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