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The village of Culamawe, where the sun takes longer to rise, makes the setting for this story. Every villager has a full time job; consulting curandeiros (medicine men) in their seemingly endless problems. Not even preachers are spared.

“What is your problem?” The medicine man asked after the preliminaries.
“I am a preacher. But I lack confidence, you know, charisma,” the preacher said.
“Charisma? What do you want charisma for?” asked the curandeiro.
“I would like to enter the church and capture the attention of everybody. …When I say Hallelujah, I would like the devil and his spirits to be banished from my presence.”

The real problems of the people, however, cannot be cured by the medicine men because they, too, know not the real problems the people of Culamawe face. These are poverty, disease and ignorance; tallying with those Kenyans have been grappling with since independence.

In the heart of the village is a woman, Dona Lucia Vanga. Her husband, a former soldier, dies leaving her to care for their three sons: Araujo, Gasper and Benito. When Gasper falls ill, Dona Lucia moves through the vast land in search of a medicine man who can cure her son. Typical of the medicine men, they offer concoctions and promises which do not work.

The disease eats the life out of Gasper. This does not, however, waver Dona Lucia’s trust in medicine men’s powers. When Araujo’s new wife, Maria, becomes pregnant, Dona Lucia takes her to a medicine man for the purpose of ‘protecting’ the pregnancy. Two months on, Maria suffers a miscarriage when her biological mother takes her to a hospital.

Araujo, too, becomes sickly and decides to seek the services of a revered curandeiro. The medicine man asks him if he has been to the big city, something he denies. There are rumours of a new disease in the big city, AIDS. Antonio Phiri, a revered medicine man, comes up with a ‘discovery’ that use of condoms spreads AIDS.

Benito, Dona Lucia’s other son, falls in love with Linda, a beautiful girl. This love does not, however, cure him of the sadness in his heart especially when Araujo falls sick and no amount of concoctions or incisions made by all medicine men save him. His health deteriorates by the day and he soon passes on. Araujo’s wife, Maria, goes back to her maternal home. She, too, falls ill and dies.

Benito decides to visit a Curandeiro. The medicine man tells him that his own mother is the cause of his misfortune! Benito decides to take the problem out of the way. His splits his mother’s head in two, killing her – just like that!

Benito and Linda move from the village to Tete town and learn about the disease. Heavy with child, Linda prays to God every day to spare her child from the virus. Their prayers are answered as they both turn out negative. The message therein being, ‘get tested’.

Benito finally lands a job at an NGO and together with Linda, moves to the town of Moatize. The two represent the younger generation with a future and knowledge about the killer disease. They serve as representatives of hope.

I, however, felt a gap in the character of Benito. After splitting his mother’s head into two, he assumes the role of a hero with an happily ever after. His defense being: – Could one go through life without making a simple mistake? Was it possible for a young man or woman to swim through the shark-infested waters of youth without slipping?

This is a story about superstition, HIV/AIDS, ignorance, war, poverty, unemployment, corruption, love, underdevelopment, Christianity and urbanization.

I loved how the author managed to throw in a quick joke once every while to lighten the serious themes. The book is definitely a page turner and a quick read. The simple language is also a huge plus.
More than anything, what kept me hooked to this story is the power of storytelling the author possesses. How he captures the setting is incredible.

Sample this:

“You should treat the disease at the beginning, not at the end. I am not saying that you should treat the symptoms instead of the disease. I’m saying that, in this case, the symptoms and the disease are the same.

“They say when a man is afraid the bladder is the first to suffer.”

“She wanted to tell Benito to take the lead when it happened…the axe split her head into two. She did not even cry out!”

“They poisoned my mind Linda, they did. They said my mother was a witch. I didn’t believe them, but I became guarded about my mother. I obeyed her. I respected her, but I never loved her. I couldn’t.”

“One hopes, too, that the tombstone of the halted war will never again be lifted, that a fitting epitaph will forever be: ‘Here lies the last of the civil war in this land, dead, embalmed, cremated and buried; never to rise or breathe again.’

“We live in a society which is at cross-roads, without any functional traffic lights. Everybody is seeing green lights even when the lights are red. The amber light appears to have become invisible to all. Nobody blows horns anymore and those who flash their lights are taken to be only saluting.”