Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: King Peggy by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman


     Imagine: you’re living the under-appreciated life of a secretary, when suddenly, someone calls to tell you that you’re the heir to (an admittedly small) kingdom. Oh joy! You get to be king! And we all know, it’s good to be the king, right?
     Well, not entirely. At least not for everyone. Lucky that the village of Otuam got Peggielene Bartels for their new king, and it is this story we read in the book King Peggy.
     Bartels was secretary at the Ghana embassy in Washington, D.C. when her uncle, king of the village of Otuam, passed away. The council of elders, through a traditional ritual, had decided she would be king. (The ritual, by the way, is that they pour schnapps onto the ground for each possible successor. The one whose schnapps steam up has been chosen by the ancestors to be king.) After much debate, Bartels went for it.
     And promptly found herself fighting widespread corruption tooth and nail, as well as widespread poverty. The council of elders were hoping that a woman king would be quiet and obedient. Needless to say, Bartels quickly disabused them of such a nonsensical idea. It was an uphill struggle for her as she dealt with all the struggles that come to royalty-rituals, bureaucracy, and corruption. But Bartels has already made a huge difference in her little village. They now have clean water pumps, a new ambulance, and new schools, thanks to Bartels catching the attention of Shiloh Baptist Church in Landover, Maryland.
     This book was hard to put down. You go through all the ups and downs with Bartels, and when she puts the corrupt elders in their places (several times, actually, they  seem rather hardheaded), you can’t help but cheer her on. It was also fascinating to learn about such a wildly different culture. For example, after Bartels becomes king, the priests of a local god visit her, and through alleged possession the god demands tribute. Apparently Bartels was rather freaked out by the whole thing, and you can’t really blame her. It’s also very amusing to see how conversations go. The elders love using metaphors, but if the metaphors are turned against them, they suddenly begin taking everything very literally and playing dumb.
      This is a fantastic book, and very inspiring-it’s amazing how much Bartels accomplishes on her secretary’s salary and fishing fees. Definitely one you’ll want to read.

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