Pigment: The Limbs of the Mukuyu Tree
Story Matter, Jul 7, 2016
"You can't kill a ghost." Winner of the 2016 LYRA Award for Mystery / Suspense / Thriller. Young American Aliya Scott travels to Tanzania to help children with her condition. There, people without pigment in their skin are called "zeru-zeru," it means "ghost," and they are believed to possess magical powers. When Aliya goes missing, her father sets out on a mission to find her. He soon discovers that she was up to more than teaching the alphabet and handing out sunblock. With each step he learns more about his daughter and a country rooted in ancestry, rich with resources, full of mystery and conflict, and a world of witchdoctors and foreign plundering, with little transparency and less justice. From the shadow of the Mukuyu tree he follows her "ghost" to the head of the dragon in Europe. But will he reach Aliya before it is too late?
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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Pigment: The Limbs of the Mukuyu Tree is a literary fiction thriller written by Renee Topper. Aliyah Scott was born with albinism, and her life in the United States was made challenging by the genetic factor that made her skin white, unlike the rich chocolate tones of her mother and father. But her life was infinitely easier than that of her fellow albinos in parts of Africa, particularly in Tanzania, where witch doctors and hunters preyed upon albino children, and the law did little to protect them. Albinos were considered to be ghosts, not real, live people, so how then could their murderers be charged with killing something that wasn't really alive? Children’s limbs were hacked off while they were alive; their blood drunk as a curative, and sometimes, it would be their own fathers, who would offer up the child for financial gain. Aliyah wanted to be part of the solution to this tragic situation. She felt an intimate involvement in the plights of the children she would be working with at Camp Kivuli. Delila, who had accepted her as a teacher sight unseen, had grave misgivings about Aliyah’s well-being while working in that country. Tanzania was the last place on earth for an American albino to be, no matter how good her intentions. All too soon, Aliyah disappeared, along with Keenan, her Irish friend. Her father, Jalil Scott, who was formerly in the Special Forces and familiar with Africa, if not Tanzania itself, was determined to find his daughter, even as he is told that it was too late, that she was gone. He would find her.
Renee Topper’s literary fiction thriller, Pigment: The Limbs of the Mukuyu Tree, is a gripping and suspenseful story that addresses the plight of albinos worldwide, but particularly in Africa. I was stunned by the ferocity and violence albino infants and children are subjected to in Tanzania, and found myself involved and engaged in Jalil’s quest to find his daughter. Pigment is a glorious read. The setting of the story is stunning. Topper brings the vast open savanna and the complexity of African cultures to the reader in each page of this original and compelling book. Jalil and his daughter are beautifully drawn characters with whom the reader can’t help but get involved. Following as Jalil gets ever closer, despite the obstructions placed before him at every step of the way, is inspirational and exciting. Pigment: The Limbs of the Mukuyu Tree is an extraordinary work about an ongoing societal tragedy. It’s most highly recommended.
Reviewed by Heather Osborne for Readers' Favorite
Pigment: The Limbs of the Mukuyu Tree by Renee Topper is the harrowing tale of a young albino woman who travelled to Africa to better understand the strange cultural practices surrounding her condition. However, she enters a world far different than she imagined, where albinos are treated as ghosts, not even human, and their limbs and bodies are brutally harvested for use in ancient rituals. Aliya Scott wants nothing more than to help the children victimized by this horrible practice, but when she goes missing, her father launches a search, encountering things he had never expected in the quest to save his daughter before it’s too late.
Admittedly, I was not sure what to expect when I picked up this book. I was aware of these practices in African countries toward albino people, especially children, and that is what drew me to want to read this book. There are no pretenses made in this novel. Renee Topper presents a harsh reality of how albino people in Africa live in fear of being mutilated for witchcraft. I found both journeys—that of Aliya and her father—equally heartbreaking. I wish there had been more discussion of how other governments are working to help fight this atrocity—if at all. Overall, Pigment: The Limbs of the Mukuyu Tree by Renee Topper is worth a read, not just as a tragic story, but to inform the rest of the world of what is going on in these countries, and hopefully spur people on to take action to keep albinos safe from these antiquated practices.