Vigaland Podcast Book Review by Viga Boland, author
Diandra Forrest is a tall, absolutely stunning model, whose photo appears in the June 2017 National Geographic. What does Diandra have to do with this fictional book, Pigment, by Renee Topper? Everything and nothing.
You see, Diandra is an African-American Albino, one of the luckier members of that group of people born with a genetic mutation that interferes with the amount of melanin in their bodies, leaving most of them with nearly translucent white skin, very weak eyes, white to pale orange hair and the lifetime risk of skin cancer from exposure to the sun. Why is Diandra one of the lucky ones? Unlike the thousands of albino children and adults abducted, mutilated and left to die in Tanzania, Africa, Diandra didn’t grow up there.
Aliya, the female protagonist of Pigment is much like Diandra. She is a beautiful, young woman who grows up in the the US. A newly graduated teacher, she heads for Tanzania on a mission: to help bring awareness to the horrible plight of albinos, to help in the fight against the crimes committed against them, and to assist young albino children to grow up loving and appreciating how special they are. It’s a noble mission fraught with danger, especially in Tanzania, but Aliya is obstinate and determined to be successful.
Does she succeed? Reading Pigment is a voyage on a stormy ocean that will leave readers unbelieving and breathless as they turn the pages. Pigment is impossible to put down. There is no wasted time, no unnecessary asides and no irrelevant action. The action never stops. Nor do the emotional highs and lows. When Aliya disappears, her retired military-trained father, Jalil, immediately flies to Tanzania and charges like a bull into a ring of deception. After all, when money is involved…and there’s lots of money involved in hunting down, abducting and murdering Albinos for their prized body parts and blood…coverups are everywhere. Separating truth from lies, the good from the bad, and locating those responsible is near impossible. Danger and death is all around.
If, while reading Pigment, readers find themselves not wanting to believe the brutality depicted…and much of it is nauseating…reading the article, “The Perils of Pale” in that issue of National Geographic mentioned above will lend credibility to the story Renee Topper has depicted so expertly in Pigment. Topper has created a fictional organization that works to help and protect Albino children, but there actually is such a group. You can find them, and donate to their cause at www.underthesamesun.com
This non-profit organization keeps detailed, gruesome records:
“Since the 1990’s, in 27 African countries, at least 190 Albinos have been killed and 300 attacked, most since 2008. The epicenter of this crime wave, which includes the robbing of graves, is Tanzania.”
What is shocking to read, and Topper cites just such a situation in Pigment, is the number of fathers and relatives who will maim or slaughter an albino child not just for money…many Tanzanians are incredibly poor and hungry…but because of their belief in the teachings of the witch doctors. It’s hard to win a battle against such deeply, ingrained beliefs. And it appears, it’s even harder to prosecute the criminals behind such financially lucrative operations.
Read Pigment and prepare to weep over the travesties against humanity portrayed by Renee Topper. Moving and unforgettable.
©Viga Boland, author and book reviewer.
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