There’s a little Senegalese folktale out there called “Ansige Karamba the Glutton”. It details the nonsense and antics of the title character, and his long-suffering wife Paama.
This book is not about Ansige; it is about Paama, and goes far past Ansige’s tale.
When Paama grows tired of her demanding, foolish husband, she retreats to her parents’ house for a time. But Ansige has no idea how to run his own household and eventually follows her. He is foolish in and of himself, but when a certain trickster spider gets involved, all manner of Wacky Hijinks ensue. Through it all, Paama remains steadfast and calm, trying to keep her husband in the best light despite knowing what he is. Even when the rest of her village laughs at him, she refuses to join in.
Her upright character catches the attention of the djombi, the spirits of the world. They must find a worthy person to control the power of the Chaos Stick, and they choose Paama when she finally has had enough and refuses to return to Ansige.
But the original wielder of the Chaos Stick, the Indigo Lord, feels he has been wronged by the other djombi and sets out to take it back, whether through trickery or force.
There is something very simplistic and beautiful about this book. Karen Lord does a wonderful job of expanding on the original folktale. Paama is an unusual heroine for modern times. She does not act, but generally reacts; she merely knows how to react in a calm, sensible fashion. Her constant patience and defense of her husband may grate on the nerves of some modern readers, but it shows her character perfectly as a person that will not put anyone down, even if they deserve it.
Paama, as wielder of the Chaos Stick, must learn the awesome responsibility that has been placed in her hands; but she is not the only character that has plenty to learn, and the story leads to a bittersweet but hopeful ending.