HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Then She Was Born
Author: Cristiano Gentili
Publisher: Help African Albinos, republished in 2017
Related website: http://www.HelpAfricanAlbinos.com/en (publisher)
Language level: 5
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Adults only
Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Gentili, Cristiano. Then She Was Born (originally published in Italian as Ombra Bianca in 2015 by Ota Benga Editore; republished in English in 2016 by Help African Albinos). In the village of Murutanga on the island of Ukerewe, in Lake Victoria, Tanzania, a nation of Africa, a girl is born to Sefu and his second wife Juma. The child is an albino or zeru-zeru. According to local superstition, albinos are non-persons, evil omens of bad luck, and good for nothing but to be killed so that their body parts can be used in magic charms. Both Sefu and Juma reject the baby. The local witch doctor Zuberi wants the girl for his spells, but with the help of Mosi or Father Andrew, a native Jesuit priest, and the village chief Kondo, Sefu’s widowed mother Nkamba manages to save the child and names her Adimu meaning special. However, Juma’s cousin Yunis kidnaps the baby to throw her in the lake, then realizes that she is not a demon but a real child, and leaves her with Charles and Sarah Fielding, a rich white couple who have a mansion on the island. Sarah wants to adopt Adimu, but Charles says no, and she goes back to Nkamba, who raises her alone.
Several years later, after Nkamba dies, Adimu, now about thirteen, wants to go to a protected community where albinos can attend school, but she is kidnapped. Meanwhile, Mr. Fielding’s mining business goes under and he contracts with Zuberi to find him a dead zeru-zeru to be used for good luck. Unbeknownst to Charles, Zuberi sends some headhunters out to find Adimu. Also Kondo wants Adimu to marry his son Ramadani hoping that her “magic” will cure the young man who has tested HIV positive. What will happen to Adimu? Will she live to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor? Or will she be sacrificed on the altar of ignorance? The subtitle to this book says, “A novel and a campaign supported by eleven Nobel prize laureates, the Dalai Lama, and Pope Francis.” That kind of endorsement would not necessarily attract me, but a copy was sent for my review. As to language, the name of God is used as an exclamation a few times, the “d” and “h” words are found rather frequently, and even the “f” bomb occurs once. Mention is made of drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and committing suicide. One scene of killing is rather blunt though not overly graphic.
Also, there are several sexual references; most of them are not vulgar or obscene, but one of them suggests rape though it doesn’t actually describe it. Obviously, the book is definitely not suitable for children or even as a family read aloud. The plot tends to meander quite a bit, but the story is written in a way that generally held my attention. If one is willing to put up with and wade through all that, there is a serious problem addressed by the author. Although the account is fictional, it does highlight the very real issues faced by albino children in Africa. Did you know that one in 20,000 people around the world are albino, whereas in Africa, one in 2,000 to 4,000 Africans are born with albinism? And they are still sought after by witch doctors and people who want to get rich quick. Those who are interested in this international human rights awareness campaign will find Then She Was Born, which was a 2017 Award Winning B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and received an Awesome Indies Seal of Excellence for Outstanding Independent Literature, an eye-opener. The novel is designed to raise awareness of the desperate plight of these children and to help support refuge villages like the ones depicted in the book.