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.