The Boy Who Stole the Leopard’s Spots
In 1935, in the Belgian Congo, two young boys of the Bapende tribe participate in the ancient tradition of cannibalism. Twins, one of them should have been killed just after birth, but their father convinced the tribe that one of the babies has special powers and stole the leopard’s spots, thus being a powerful and good spirit that should remain with the tribe. In alternating chapters, we follow one of the twins as he is kidnapped from his tribe, has a series of unfortunate experiences, and eventually ends up a young man living in Belle Vue.
The alternating story occurs in 1958, in the Belgian Congo town of Belle Vue, where an eclectic group of European and African characters have lives that intertwine in fascinating ways. I wanted to list all the spunky and revolting and crazy and wise characters, but there are too many to describe in this short space. Instead I will praise the author’s imagination and creative skills in her development of a wonderful cast. Much of the conversation between the whites and the blacks involve the whites trying to convert the blacks to Christianity with arguments that, in view of the natives’ own traditions and wisdom, are nonsensical: it’s a sin to eat the meat of a man, but it’s a requirement to eat the body of Christ on a regular basis.
The chapters switch between the earlier time period and the later, until the 1935 story progresses into the 1958 story, where the plots and characters neatly merge. A murder occurs and is solved, but this novel is less a murder mystery than a collage of quirky characters, dealing with crazy events, in a jungle world brought beautifully alive by Tamar Myers.