Tuesday, 6 November 2012

King Peggy - Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman

King Peggy is Peggieline Bartels, a US citizen, and a secretary at the Ghanian Embassy in Washington.  Well, for around 11 months of each year, anyway.  But for the other month or so, she is the King of Otuam, a fishing village of around 7,000 souls most of whom are poor, and jobless.

When the ancestors chose her from the list of possibles (along with some of the village elders - more of that as the book unfolds) it was more than a shock.  She had a life elsewhere.  The last time she had visited the village was several years before, when her mother died.  So to step off the plane and be treated like royalty was something else again.  But it didn't take long for Peggy to realise that several things were wrong.  The village taxes were gone - and as they had been paid, someone must have recieved them and spent them.  Village land had been sold off, again, no money to show for it.  Her elders were at first very respectful, but only superficially, as it soon became obvious that a woman's place was not on the throne, but being subserviant to her male elders and betters. 

Peggy is not a rich woman.  She has to work, and lives in a one bedroom apartment in Maryland, USA.  In Otuam she is king, although the palace is only cement block built, leaky and is falling apart, and there is no money to bury the former king who has been in the fridge at the morgue for some time.  How to give him a good burial, how to raise money for clean water in the town, how to get more kids into school - and that's just for starters, for Peggy is king for life, and there is much to be done.  How she sets out to achieve those aims, get the village on her side, show up the people who have stolen village money and are trying to belittle her is Peggy's story.  She is assisted in the writing of this book by journalist Eleanor Herman, who herself paid for one of the two bore-holes bringing clean water up into the town, and has accompanied Peggy on two trips to Otuam.  Nice interview with King Peggy here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoKei1lqk58&feature=related

Alexander McCall Smith says "this is an astonishing and wonderful book about a real-life Mma Ramotswe.  It is an utter joy".  He's right.  It is.