Sacrificed

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“Sacrificed places Chanette Paul among the classiest thriller writers of our day.”

Sacrificed by Chanette Paul is a long and satisfying read. Despite its length it is a page-turner that will keep you reading long past the moment the midnight oil burns out. It is a thriller and a family saga with heft and portent. The novel thrusts us deeply into the troubled seas of racial identity in pre- and post-apartheid South Africa, as well as into the tragic and chaotic political mix that comprises modern-day Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

From the desperate Belgian Congo in 1961—the time of the murder of President Patrice Lumumba—to life in the natural beauty of South Africa, now a country that 20 years after apartheid ended, sadly is riddled with crime. South African author, Chanette Paul, does not sugarcoat reality.

Ambiguity and coincidence serve as the major organizing principles of this complex and evocative novel. Protagonist Caz Colijn notes this and quotes the poet John Donne, “no man is an island.” Life is an intricate puzzle of interconnected stories—those we know and those that remain hidden. What happens in one life shakes the web of interconnection with often unforeseen consequences.

Caz, a 53-year-old woman, translates English and Afrikaans books. She is a recluse, living alone in a remote part of the rural Cape Province of South Africa—the Overberg. Unexpectedly her estranged sister calls from Belgium to tell her that their mother is dying and wants to see Caz. She declares that Fien is not Caz’s biological mother, and she, not Caz’s sister. This news comes as a thunderbolt to Caz and galvanizes her into undertaking the trip to Belgium. She is obsessed with a search for her biological mother.

We meet a host of characters, all with interconnected ties to Caz, although often they and she do not know this. There are the two mysterious Congolese men who shadow Caz’s every move, a professor of contemporary African history who finds himself thrust into the mix, and a Belgium detective who follows apparently synchronistic clues that ultimately do not produce conclusive evidence. There are African spirits, nkisi, African art, and spiritual rituals—all somehow associated with diamonds. Any more details will be spoilers to this gripping thriller.

Caz is a white woman but she has a remarkable black daughter, an international super-model, Lilah. Lilah’s father was Caz’s white, Afrikaner, long since divorced from husband. Cross-currents of race and racial identity abound.

“Of course, she realized that there must have been a racial mix somewhere for her to have given birth to Lilah, but she would never have thought that it would be a father or grandfather, an old transgression of the immorality law on the Maritz side, perhaps even of Magdel’s forefathers in days gone by who had fallen out of the family tree.

Now it turned out she herself was of color. Despite her white skin.

Until Lilah had said it so comically, it had not really dawned on her. A half-breed. That was what she was. It didn’t turn her into anything or anyone other than Caz Colijn, but it was still a shock. An idea she would have to get used to. . . .

She and Lilah came from a family tree where they had to make peace with shades. Like the yesterday-today-and-tomorrow tree had to make peace with its fading flowers.”

In Sacrificed the arcs of many storylines merge and part and ultimately leave several threads hanging. This in itself is satisfying and realistic, an intelligent way to conclude the book. Intimate family trajectories, as well as those of grandiose political schemas cannot be neatly packaged simply because they have become more transparent to the characters and the reader. Ultimately, we are left with some answers but also more questions.

If there is a weakness in the novel it is the somewhat sketchy role of the two Congolese men who doggedly follow Caz. Their philosophy of “reAfrikanization + Dewhitenization = Total Afrikan Liberation” deserves far more development than simply serving as a plot device in the riveting mystery and drama around Congolese uncut diamonds and political ambition.

But this is a minor quibble in what is a compelling read in author Paul’s North American debut. After 41 novels written in Afrikaans and published in her native South Africa, Sacrificed places Chanette Paul among the classiest thriller writers of our day.

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Stolen Girls: Survivors of Boko Haram Tell Their Story

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“As Bauer writes the fight against Boko Haram is far from over. His final sentence encapsulates Nigeria’s nightmare: ‘We have fear. We have hope.’”

Stolen Girls by Wolfgang Bauer is not an easy read—gruesome and laden with horrifying details—but it is an important one.

The abduction of 267 girls from their boarding school in a rural Nigerian town called Chibok by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram on the night of April 14, 2014, drew worldwide attention.

For days and weeks international TV crews followed the mothers and other family members of the girls as they cried, rent their clothes, and organized protest marches that eventually flared globally centered on the missing girls. “Bring Back Our Girls” became a movement. Boko Haram terror haunted western Nigeria for a decade before, but the girls gave that horror an international face.

Over that decade, thousands of other women, men, and boys have been abducted by Boko Haram and taken to hideouts in swampy rain forests in western Nigeria called Sambisa. Inevitably the world’s attention left Nigeria and the abducted girls. However, German journalist Wolfgang Bauer and his brilliant photographer, Andy Spira, with this book fill the gap.

The book opens with a series of striking photographic portraits of seven of the Chibok girls and older women who were abducted and managed to escape by January 2016. The book is a transcription of the interviews Bauer conducted with a sampling of these 60 women. Bauer provides no commentary on what they say, their words speak for themselves. He asks us to listen. Below are short excerpts from several of the women.

Sadiya: They left me only my name. They took everything else. I am now someone else; I feel that. I am now someone I do not know.

Agnes: I fled from the camp with fifty other women, but made it only to a village on the savannah because I went into labor. They helped me with the baby. It was very painful, giving birth to the baby that the man made inside me. . . . I had no choice but to marry him in the forest. They killed the women who refused. I saw it happen. . . . The child the Boko Haram fighter forced me to bear in the forest is three months old. A man who helped deliver the baby was called Moussa, so he told me to name the baby Moussa. So I did. I don’t care. It’s a name like any other. Let him be Moussa. . . . I don’t love this child. . . . This baby cries much more than my other children did when they were young. I look at it a lot and think I have to feel something for it. But I feel nothing. I should have killed it.

Rabi: A fighter stopped me. “Where are you going?” he wanted to know. “I am going home to my mother,” I said. . . . He took me to a house with many women inside. I do not know how many there were anymore. They were being taught lessons from the Koran in order to be married later. They kept me for a week there. Then a man came for me. I was terrified; I thought he would kill me. But he did not hit me. He led me away from the building with the girls and then beat me at his home. He beat me cruelly. With a stick. My back bled. My skin split open. He threatened to kill my mother if I ran away again.

He is an evil man. He should be beheaded. His head should be sliced off.”

Bauer intersperses the transcriptions of the victims with a history of Boko Haram and an interpretation of their dystopian beliefs. These notes are helpful and round out the almost too painful to read testimony of the women. He ends his book with a warning “if the political structures finally collapse in Nigeria, and if no viable alternative to them is found, chaos will ensue, and various radicalized factions will clash in an attempt to create a new order and balance. The shock waves will quickly reach Europe and the Western world.”

This prediction we already know to be true about places like Libya and Syria and the mammoth refugee crisis. And as Bauer writes the fight against Boko Haram is far from over. His final sentence encapsulates Nigeria’s nightmare: “We have fear. We have hope.”

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