Book Review: Praise Song for the Butterflies
Publication Date: Jul 03, 2018
List Price: $27.95
Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
Imprint: Akashic Books
Publisher: Akashic Books
Parent Company: Akashic Books
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Book Reviewed by Tony Lindsay
An effective novelist can change reality with their fiction. Many writers see and experience things that are unjust, and they react. They write to alter the injustice; Praise Song for the Butterflies is prose written to bring about a change.
The reader is introduced to an innocent, one so fragile and young that most would seek to protect her. McFadden uses the innocent to bring light to a hidden ritual practice that is valued by some, hated by others, and accepted as a tradition. Ritual servitude, trokoski, takes hold of McFadden’s created innocent, and that forces the reader into a story that will yield understanding, empathy, and revulsion.
If one’s family is experiencing “bad luck,” it is believed that a sacrifice to the gods will end the bad luck. A child, usually a female, is given to a “shrine” as a sacrifice. The shrine is overseen by a priest, a “hand” of the gods, who directs the life of the child. The child’s servitude is considered marriage to gods, and it is for life. The family that offered the child sacrifice will supposedly be relieved of the bad luck as long as a member of the family remains in servitude to the shrine; this is trokosi.
McFadden does an excellent job of creating a family in need of divine intervention. The family is powerless against the political corruption that has plagued the fictional Ukemby. McFadden creates an educated father who is influenced by the tradition of his people to seek leverage in a situation where he is impotent. He puts his education aside for the valued tradition of trokoski. After the sacrifice, his finances improve.
McFadden expertly illustrates how a family could justify the sacrifice of an innocent child for greater good of the family. But the reader is forced ask what about child? What sense of understanding does she have? None - is the answer McFadden gives.
The sacrificed child is surround by strangers, in an unknown place with no understanding as why she is there. She is questioning an injustice that is beyond her intellectual and emotional capacity. She is worked from dawn to dust, and the comparison to chattel slavery is impossible to miss. The same scares occur. The child grows to hate her situation and her day-to-day life; this is trokoski.
McFadden’s talent is apparent in her presentation of the community’s acceptance of a child’s disappearance: a family decides that there are too many shrines to search – so they stop looking for the child, a family’s finances improve – so the child being gone is a fair exchange, African traditions are resistant to change – so no enforceable governmental action is witnessed in the novel. Children, young girls, are gone and the community accepts it.
McFadden’s innocent girl child’s journey through trokoski, insanity, rehabilitation, and forgiveness to reach a point of self-awareness and strength – is a literary treasure. Praise Song for the Butterflies is a well-crafted story about an injustice that can be changed.