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Then She Was Born: Born to be different, surviving to make a difference

by Cristiano Gentili

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The story of an albino child in Tanzania, Then She Was Born is a heartbreaking novel, filled with fascinating, sometimes horrifying detail, and peopled with convincingly flawed characters. While the plight of a child who doesn’t know if she’s white or black--and doesn’t realize her life hangs by an ever weakening spiritual thread--is fascinating on its own, there’s also a universal sense to this novel. How do we, in our comfortably civilized cities, treat those who don’t fit in? Who do we blame for difference? And who will we protect?

Rejected by her parents and now the cause of their separation, Adimu views herself as a mistake. Witch doctors view her as bank of body parts for spiritual power. Hunters hope to catch and kill. And secular power exerts the greatest control.

Through the eyes of its curious protagonist, this novel offers an intriguing variety of points of view on skin color, religion, and the complex misunderstandings of love. It’s a sometimes terrifying tale, taking a long slow path to resolution. Soul searching internal dialog, wonderfully researched detail, and the knowledge that these stories truly happen, all make this a book not to be missed. But read slowly, and be ready to question yourself.

Disclosure: I was given a copy and I offer my honest review. ( )
  SheilaDeeth | Jul 12, 2017 |
It’s hard to even know where to start when describing Then She Was Born by Cristiano Gentli. The description doesn’t do it justice. This is a complex novel that has several sub plots and themes, but at the heart of the story is a young girl trying to find where she fits within society. The story begins with an albino baby born in a small community in Africa. The parents disown her and the village wishes to kill her because she will bring bad fortune. The baby’s grandmother Nkamba saves the infant and talks the village into saving her by giving the lake gods a chance to destroy it, if the baby is truly evil. The baby survives and is named Adimu.

Adimu leads a hard existence, she is shunned by the children in her village and makes friends with the farm animals that she has to take care of. Being an albino in Africa, Adimu is not seen as a person, but as a thing. To Africans her body parts are considered valuable and they will pay to have parts of her. Adimu gives pieces of her hair to other kids so she has someone to play with, until her grandmother puts a stop to it. One day Adimu is very excited because some kids want her to go on a boat ride, but later she finds out from her grandmother that those kids are not her friends, Legend has it that if an albino is on a ship that sinks, the albino will float and the others can use her as a flotation device to get to safety.

Things are bad for Adimu but sometimes good things can come from bad. She has learned to become self-reliant and though she is lonely she carries on. Adimu has the love of her Grandma, and an English woman named Sarah who can’t have kids befriends her. Adimu is never safe though as bounty hunters are hunting her for her body parts including Sarah’s husband Charles. Everyone here has an agenda and only a few have Adimu’s best interests at heart.

Proving how complex this novel is, their are several other stories that are also told. You have a man driven by greed who is willing to do anything to expand his empire. There is a wife who is heartbroken that she cannot have a baby. Another woman looses everything including her identity to follow her husband to Africa. It has a witch doctor willing to do anything to keep his power in the village and a priest who wants to get more people to follow his congregation. We also have a young African man who believes he has Aids and is expected to follow in his father’s footsteps as a village leader, despite wanting to be a doctor. This book is a fictionalized version of what Africa is like.

This is not normally the kind of book I like to read but I was asked several times to give it a look and decided to give it a chance. Then She Was Born is a perfectly written human drama that highlights the human experience in Africa. Africa comes to life in vivid detail in the description of its people, there superstitions, how their communities are ran along with the beauty and poverty of the country. You also see the characters in the story change their attitudes towards Adimu. Some can’t leave their superstitions behind, while others find that the way they see this African Albinos is wrong. Then She Was Born is a great piece of literature that I hope raises some awareness for Helping African Albinos. ( )
  dwatson2 | Mar 25, 2017 |
When I was asked to review this book I told the author I could not guarantee them a date for the review as we were approaching our month of testing at school. However, while on spring break something about the book kept drawing me to it. Out of all of the books I read over my break, this one to me is the most important. For that reason the review was bumped to the very front. I had a student four years ago who was an albino African American. I understood some of the physical issues she faced. I had no idea of the history of African albinos until this book. Although this book is the fictional story of Adimu, an albino child born to a black couple, I had no idea of the stigmatism or superstitions that accompanied that birth. The child along with the mother is rejected by her father. The mother rejects the child. The village demands she be taken to the forest to die. The grandmother is given permission to raise the child if she survives not being trampled by the herd as they leave their pen. Her wise grandmother wraps her in a cloth soaked in the cattle urine. They step over her and the people decide the gods of the lake are allowing her to live. At times I found myself angry with the way the grandmother treated her until I realized she was teaching her skills to survive any danger that arose long after she was gone. The fortunate meeting with the rich, white mine owner Mr. Fielding and his wife play a large part in her life. Unfortunately greed on Mr. Fielding’s part almost cost her the very life she has fought so hard to keep.

I learned so much from this book and what I learned from researching afterwards. 1 in 20,000 people around the world are albinos. However, in Africa, 1 in 2,000 to 4,000 African’s are born with albinism. They are still sought after by witch doctors and people who want to get rich quick. They fear the night as that is when their homes are broken into and they are viciously attacked with machetes where they are hacked apart while alive then left to die. There are many arrests but few prosecutions. There are many people who have tried to change old superstitions. Josephat Torner is one. I would not have been inspired to start researching about him if it had not been for the author of this book who sought me out. I would not be inspired to reach out and teach my students about this plight if not for this book. Mine is just one voice, but I proudly raise it along with others to bring this problem to the forefront.

I received a copy to facilitate my review. The opinions expressed here are my own. ( )
  skstiles612 | Mar 25, 2017 |
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