It seems easy enough. Write a synopsis of the plot and give a short opinion of the story and style. Nothing is ever that simple for me. The words and sentences are what draw me in. Language is, in my opinion, a true form of art. Discovering a gem of a book is the height of excitement for me, I take note of striking words and sentences; the mark of my enjoyment is the pages and pages of scribbles in my little notebook. There are two kinds of book I love. The first is the kind I can relate to, the books that show me something about myself or reflect my life experiences.
The second kinds are the ones that are beautifully written, the language evokes emotion. They do not shout stories at you or draw too much attention to themselves instead they coax you in, invite you to savor the experience and leave an imprint on your mind. The really good ones are able to convey an argument and make you re-evaluate your ideas.
Storytelling in Northern Zambia
My copy is full of post it notes! It is a book about two children, Bul-Boo and Madillo, in Lusaka,Zambia who discover that their friend is in danger. It tackles extremely serious issues in a way that is not preachy, this is highly effective because we as readers are often desensitised by people shouting down at us. Their innocence endears us to them and makes the story all the more powerful.
What I liked best though, was the portrayal of Zambia. It was like I was seeing it from a completely different outlook. I know a lot of the traditional stories and the places, but when I read the book it felt like I hadn't really appreciated them. The title of the book is a great example of this! The Butterfly Heart refers to the shape of Zambia, a butterfly in the heart of Africa. Madillo counts her steps home everyday. On one particular day she decides to count in Bemba a Zambian language her sister found this particularly tedious. I thought it was hilarious!
Counting in Bemba is like Roman numerals in words. Needless to say it took a long time to get home. Siobhan Parkinson asserted that after reading it she wanted to visit Zambia. She has read and supported this blog from the very beginning and I was really excited to be able to speak to her about her work and the inspiration behind it. My family moved to Zambia in at the start of Zambia's life as an independent state. I was born in Kenya and was five when we moved first toKitwe then to Lusaka. I think that the reason Zambia had such an impact on me is that I spent the most aware part of my childhood there, as we left when I was fifteen.
I think for all of us our childhood memories are very strong. I also think that because we moved from there to South Africa my dad's work took him there the contrast between the two countries was so sharp that my memories of Zambia remained at the forefront of my mind. The warmth, the heat of the ground under my feet, the music of the voices around me, the lack of consciousness in my mind of race and difference — all these things were shattered on moving to SA , a place of apartness, brutality and anger.
My experiences there affected every part of this book — because my memories were so vivid. I am continually entertained and fascinated by the way people move through their lives, and my characters emerge through this. Out of interest. What goes into writing a novel? How long does it take? This book, The Butterfly Heart, took me a few months to write. But what takes more time than that is the thinking, the reading, the research.
It is important for me, whatever I am writing about, to try and get it right. I think as a writer you owe that to those whose lives may be reflected in the things you write. What was your inspiration for the story and its subject matter, child marriage? One of my primary school friends at the Dominican Convent in Lusaka did not return to school one term and we later learned that she had been married off to a much older man.
We never saw her again. The memory of her remained with me always, so I decided to write about it — not her story but a story that reflected the issue. Why did you consider it particularly important to tackle that issue? I regard childhood as enormously precious — I feel infinitely privileged myself to have had a childhood that was happy. We bring children into this world — we need to protect them.
If we as adults cannot do this then this reflects badly on the way we manage society. I am always amazed at how books written about 'far off' countries can resonate with those in the west.
Why do you think this is? About countries they may never get to visit. Books can create a window into these other worlds. Now, with the recession in the West, people are also looking to understand things beyond themselves — in a curious way the hardships of the current climate take people out of themselves into a less selfish space. The folk tales and language in the book are very accurate.
What kind of research did you have to undertake?
DOWN MEMORY LANE™
Reading, reading and more reading. I accessed books where old tales had been translated, I scoured the web and I searched my memory! Not a hardship at all as the tales themselves are so wondrous to read. I wanted to get it right and am glad to hear you think I did. You have expressed an interest in supporting more local writing in countries like Zambia. Why is that? It upset me as this is a continent where storytelling, magic, folklore and tales are the stuff of everyday life — there is an enormous richness.
Yet this is not reflected, because of a lack of resources, in books for children coming out of Africa. My own book is set in Zambia and so if there is any way I can encourage more of this to happen I would like to do it. The characters or protagonists, Bul-boo and Madillo two girls , are powerless to save their friend Winifred from a terrifying fate, and time is slipping away.
In desperation they call on Ifwafwa, the "snake man". But though the old man is wise, he is slow and the girls become impatient. Early on, we can see that young Winifred is not her usual self.
Her friend Bul-boo notices that her friend is disoriented. We read: "Winifred didn't put her hand up in class today. She hardly put her head up. I kept looking at her sideways, waiting. But nothing. When the bell rang, she slipped out of the classroom as if she had never been there. Like a shadow. I stayed sitting for a while, wondering Like a typical book for youngsters, we are introduced to the world of animals, which also quite fascinate the girls.
Yes, that's what they call me. The puff adder. Slow and heavy, but fast to strike. The little one, Bul-Boo, she told me about the name. It's a nickname, she said, because you catch all the snakes and because your bicycle makes that noise, fwa-fwa-fwa. This book intelligently combines a medley of story-telling approaches excellent for African children in particular.
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The vocabulary is simple and a didactic tone also works well here. Ifwafwa, for example, tells us: ".. That is why I tell stories. When I tell stories, my head is filled with other people who talk to me and know me. When I tell stories, my mother and grandmother come back to me. My grandmother scolds me and sends me off to look for eggs. Many years ago, the likes of Enid Blyton churned out wonderful interesting books for children to read and enjoy around the world.
In recent times, JK Rowling has of course become a phenomenon. The author of this book shows in this debut work that she can spin a fine tale that would enthral young readers. Indeed, this is a stirring, lyrical story from the butterfly heart of Africa. It will have appeal to the mainstream young reader and boost literacy in South Africa and in other parts of the continent.
The author, Paula Leyden, was born in Kenya and spent her childhood in Zambia. As a teenager, she moved with her family to South Africa, where she soon became involved in the struggle to end apartheid. Since she has lived on a farm in Kilkenny, Ireland, with her partner and five children, where she breeds horses and writes.