Liralen's Reviews > King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village

King Peggy by Peggielene Bartels
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's review
Oct 19, 2012

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bookshelves: z-2013, africa, nonfiction, kings-and-queens, reviewed

Five-star story with -- at best -- three-star writing.

The cover copy is a little misleading -- King Peggy is an American secretary, yes, but one who was born and raised in Ghana. The choice of her as king was certainly unusual, and unexpected, but not so far off course as one might think from reading the flap.

But that's a minor quibble. What kills me is how badly this story was handled. Oh, it's absolutely fascinating, and on that level I highly recommend it -- King Peggy's strength and character sing through, despite the butchery of the story.

I'd expected this to be a ghostwritten memoir -- most of the actual writing done by the second author (in this case, Herman), but in the voice (and in first-person narration) of the first author (Bartels). Damien Lewis is, to my mind, a ghostwriter who manages this really well.

This book is third-person narration (Peggy said this, Peggy did that), and it takes the reader way out of the story. The dialogue is appallingly stilted at first, though it gets better towards the latter half of the book, perhaps because that's when author #2 started tagging along on King Peggy's trips to Ghana and could quote the conversations more accurately. Fixing POV and dialogue would have gone a long way towards improving the writing, but really, the writing just doesn't do justice to the story.

But the story itself: It's fascinating. King Peggy presents as smart, no-nonsense, and subscribing to a mix of modern ways and old Ghanaian lore. She's idealistic enough to believe that she can effect change, but also realistic enough to recognise the corruption plaguing her village -- and that her elders do not necessarily want a strong king. Because she's strong, and stubborn, and determined to do right by her people, she barrels ahead anyway, applying her mix of modern and ancient to satisfy tradition but also bring the village forwards. One of the most powerful moments is when she gets proof that her elders are not behind her -- that they (some of them, anyway) don't care so much about the advancement of the village when the status quo means that they get more than their fair share.

Worth reading for the story, but I really, really wish the writing had been done better.

Jumbled thoughts on narrative choices here.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
October 19, 2012 – Shelved
September 8, 2013 – Shelved as: z-2013
September 8, 2013 – Shelved as: africa
September 8, 2013 – Shelved as: nonfiction
September 8, 2013 – Shelved as: kings-and-queens
September 10, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed

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