The Butterfly Heart — a book review

Sara Drawwater
30 November 2011
A couple of months ago, The Butterfly Heart came to our attention. This is the kind of book we’d like to see more of — quality writing about Zambia and Africa’s culture, history and how we can go…

A couple of months ago, The Butterfly Heart came to our attention. This is the kind of book we’d like to see more of — quality writing about Zambia and Africa’s culture, history and how we can go boldly forward into the future. We got two members of our team to write book reviews. If you want a copy of The Butterfly Heart, get it here.

Update 11/06/12We are pleased to hear that the Butterfly Heart recently won the Ellis Dillon Award for best First Book.

Sara’s reviewThe Butterfly Heart — touching, enthralling and enlightening. Written by Paula Leyden, this is one of those rare books that will be at home in the hands of children, teens and adults. Though these 200 pages carry a serious message about the challenges and secrets some children are burdened with, this story is not told from a preachy moral high ground. Paula’s knowledge and experience of Africa (Kenya, Zambia and South Africa specifically) shines through in the way she has strung together this wonderful concoction of words. This book attempts to express the challenges of deep rooted cultural beliefs, versus the expectations and aspirations of a modern way of life.

I could tell you about the wonderful characters — the larger-than-life and contemplative twins, Madillo and Bul-Boo, Winifred the young girl who comes to school with ‘plastic bags tied carefully around her shoes so they didn’t get muddy’, Fred from next door with a witch for a Grandmother and of course, Ifwafwa the snake man — but I don’t want to. Instead, I’d like you to find out about them for yourself because then you’ll find out why this very special book has been endorsed by Amnesty International.

Sara Drawwater, PR and Marketing Director,

Nambeye’s reviewPaula Lyden manages to weave a gripping tale through a simple story about the threat to the innocence of childhood, the strong ties of friendship and a hint of magic. This book is an easy read and can be read by all ages.

The story revolves around Madillo and Bul-Boo, two very different twins, the latter much more contemplative and reserved than her outspoken and sometimes over imaginative sister. When one of their closest friends Winifred is faced with a terrifying fate, the twins call upon Ifwafwa, the local snake man to help. But their faith in Ifwafwa wavers as Winifred’s time runs out, and they come up with all sorts of ideas to help their dear friend before it is too late.

The story is made interesting and even hilarious at times, with an assortment of different characters such as Sister Leonisa, the girl’s teacher who is a religious fanatic that exaggerates every lesson to fit her warped view of life, and their neighbour Fred, who has a witch for a Grandmother.

Paula does a fine job of allowing the reader to see the story from each of the characters points of view, by expressing their thoughts and their feelings at every turn. Her knowledge of Zambia is evident in her expression of culture and lifestyle, and though it is sometimes off key, it is mostly accurate.

One of the most intriguing characters in the story is Ifwafwa, the snake man. Because the character is so important to this story, it is easy to notice the weaknesses related to him. For example, he is portrayed to have a close relationship with the children and they spend a lot of time with him. But I find this a bit unrealistic. Surely no parent would allow their young children to spend so much time with a man who always has dangerous snakes in his bag? (Though children are known to be sneaky at times). I find that Ifwafwa’s tale remains unfinished. The reader is taken on a journey into Ifwafwa’s past about his murdered Grandmother and Mother. But the story ends with no conclusion of what became a vital part of the story for me. Drum roll for a sequel? All in all, The Butterfly Heart is a worthy tale and definitely worth the read. It’s nice to see people taking inspiration from Zambia and helping to raise its profile through the written word.

Nambeye Katebe, Multi-Media Journalist,

There’s more on the book here.

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