Praise Song for the Butterflies

Abeo Kata had a happy, relatively uneventful life in Ukemby (a fictional country between Ghana and Togo). There were some minor dramas here are there, but she was mostly shielded from them, focusing instead on the fun times, such as when her aunt Serafine came to visit from America. All of that changed when her father was placed under investigation for crimes committed in the government office where he worked. That event, plus some other trials and tragedies that followed close behind, led him to give Abeo to one of the shrines in the area, where she would live as a trokosi, or ritual slave.

Bernice L. McFadden shines a light on a horrifying practice, but I found the novel ultimately frustrating. It felt too slight for the subject matter, full of deep emotion but skirting quickly over it to focus on inconsequential details and characters.

The book’s chapters are short, often just three or four pages, and I was quickly swept along in the story. But at almost every turn, I wanted more. Momentous events occur over just a page or two, and then make little impact on the plot. There was a point where a character is extremely sick, leading to disastrous consequences, but then he almost disappears from the plot, causing me to look back and see if he actually died. A few characters are given lengthy introductions, just to bring about a single plot point and vanish. It just feels incomplete and the emotional moments unearned.

I’m not one who thinks a book needs to wallow in tragedy to effectively tell a tragic story. I appreciated, for example, that the novel skips over most of Abeo’s time in servitude. But moving too quickly over it, especially over the recovery, has the effect of simplifying the process. To be clear, the narrative says that many of the emotional beats take time, but we readers are given no way to feel that time.

I also found the writing a little awkward, with strange word choices that pulled me out of the story. This is the kind of thing I often don’t notice if I’m enjoying a book, but when a book isn’t working for me, I sometimes can’t avoid seeing it.

Still, with all this said, the book reads quickly, and I never stopped caring about what happened to the characters. I just wanted more time to dig into their experiences.

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2 Responses to Praise Song for the Butterflies

  1. Oh, I so agree! I wanted to like this one much more than I did like it, which was disappointing because my previous experience with this author was quite good and left me wanting more. But this honestly felt like she was doing it by the numbers a little bit — like she hadn’t quite gotten to a final draft yet? I dunno! Have you read anything else by her?

    • Teresa says:

      I wonder if she had a much bigger book in mind and then had to shorten it. There was so much story here.

      I haven’t read any of her other books. Are there other ones you’d especially recommend?

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