Kelly Knapp's Reviews > The Boy Who Stole the Leopard's Spots

The Boy Who Stole the Leopard's Spots by Tamar Myers
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Apr 29, 12

Recommended to Kelly by: Goodreads Firstreads giveaway.
Recommended for: history buffs, African literature buffs, High School students studying slavery and segragation
Read from April 27 to 28, 2012 — I own a copy, read count: once

First, I must say that this book has it all: mystery, budding romance, familial and societal conflict, mythos of some of the African tribes, evangelism, hypocrisy, suicide, and even a resurrection.

However, this is neither a book about religion nor evangelism. It is a historical fiction relating a story about a set of twins (an unwanted, evil abnormality in early African tribes) whose father loves them so much he defies the tradition of his people and refuses to let them be killed.

It is a story about a people in subjugation, who are beginning to strain at their chains. And, it is a story of personal foibles that when kept hidden, can eat away at and even destroy lives.

The cannibalistic Bupende tribe, as well as many other African tribes, believes that animals give birth in multiples. However, women give birth to single, individual babies. Therefore, the rare occurrence of twins can only be evil and they are killed. Then, the chief’s wife (his favorite one, he has many) gives birth to twins and he concocts a story about a great spirit living in one of the boys, who help to save the town from a leopard. Since they are too young to determine which is this great spirit, they cannot be touched until they mature and can tell the tribe which one is the great one. The tribe gives in and the boys are allowed to live. This part of the story is written as a prologue.

As the author begins her story, it is several years later and the boys are now pre-adolescents. There is another break with tribal traditions when the twins are allowed to participate in a restoration ceremony, the eating-of-flesh. They are allowed because the human that is killed and cooked wronged one of the twins and this is the way to restore his honor. There were two men together when the incident took place, but only one of the men actually wronged the child.

Because the second man shows great courage, he is released and allowed to return to his home. From here, the book begins a complex multiple plot design, flashing forward to 1958 and back to events beginning with the restoration ceremony in 1935.

Because I know little of African history or mythos, I cannot comment as to the veracity of the background events in the story. However, it is clear that Ms. Meyers went to great lengths to incorporate real events with the fictional side. Perhaps more important is that Ms. Meyers characters are phenomenal. No two dimensional characters in this story and certainly no stereotypes.

In fact, Ms. Meyers is forever surprising the reader with the depth and intelligence of her characters. Not because the reader has a chance to stereotype a character, but because the characters themselves lead the reader down one path only to backtrack or twist off in an unseen or unexpected direction. In addition, the author has created multiple protagonists, who begin interacting among one another and eliciting bits and pieces of the background of other characters. Many of these bits and pieces are erroneous or become miniature red herrings to the overall story, but create intriguing side stories that lend a deeper insight into many characters.

The setting is integral to the story line. In the 1958 setting, the reader is taken to a river with an island in the middle. The location is called, Belle Vue. The colonialists live on the river’s edge and the African natives live on the island. It is during the season just before the rains begin and the humidity climbs higher every day. The colonialists call it the suicide month because the weather can become so oppressive that people will take their own lives to escape it. In 1935, the setting is one in the Bupende tribe’s village and as time progresses, other villages until all of our essential characters are in the same village of Belle Vue.

While it could be said that there are many themes throughout the book, the over-riding theme is loyalty and how it is or can be changed by events over time. The readers are submerged in loyalty to families, loyalty to companies, loyalty to oneself, and loyalty to one’s god. The author shows the reader, rather than tells the reader, how these loyalties intersect, conflict with one another, and how one loyalty may win out above another.

If I have any complaints about the book, it is the style chosen by the author. While the flashback and forward provides much of the information needed to understand the events in 1958, I found the information provided in the flashbacks to be too vague at times to be satisfying. I do not mind having to ferret out information, but at times I wasn’t entirely sure that we were even discussing the same characters anymore. I found myself having to reread sections (usually the flashbacks) to ensure that I had not missed something.

I would recommend this book to history buffs, African literature buffs, and high school students learning about colonialism or slavery and segregation. (It wasn’t just an American problem.)

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