Thursday, December 10, 2009

Protruding Navel and Ugly Eyes

I was fortunate to be on a panel at Bouchercon with some of the other writers who blog on Murder is Everwhere. One person on the panel who is not part of this blog is Tamar Myers. She is a prolific author of about 30 novels, including the Den of Antiquity series and many Pennsylvania-Dutch mysteries.

Tamar was born and raised in the Belgian Congo – now the Congo – to a missionary family. And to hear her tell of her youth is to listen to a master storyteller. The crowd at Bouchercon lapped up her tales of wild animals and wilder tribesmen.

At Bouchercon, Tamar’s latest book was released, The Witch Doctor’s Wife. I was fortunate to get one of the few copies available. It turns out that when I asked Tamar to sign the book for me, she exclaimed that it was the first time she had seen the book. Needless to say my copy of the book is appropriately inscribed.

The book is charming. It tells the story of a young American woman, Amanda, who lands up in a mining town in the middle of the country. Her goal is to run a guest house used by missionaries. She moves into the house recently vacated by the previous missionaries – a house that comes with a housekeeper - who happens to be a man. “Most housekeepers here are men. The women are too busy raising their children and working in the fields. Fieldwork, that is women’s work.” So says the local head of police, Pierre Jardin.

The housekeeper’s name is Protruding Navel, and he dispenses African wisdom in a way that constantly clashes with Amanda’s feminist and social sensibilities. “Nor should you call me mukelenge. To address me with such respect will fill my foolish native head with too much pride. How then will I remember my station in life?”

The local witch doctor, whose name is Their Death, has two wives. The second, called Cripple for obvious reasons, shows up at Amanda’s house one day and persuades the bewildered Amanda to hire her as her assistant. During the conversation in which Amanda deplores the name given to Cripple, she is given her own descriptive name – Ugly Eyes – apparently Tamar’s nickname when she was in the Congo, because of her blue eyes.

The book is an easy read, filled with delightful and often very funny clashes of culture, not only between the Blacks and Whites, particularly Amanda, but also between some of the Whites. It provides glimpses into a part of the world that is not well known, where cultural norms would typically shock most Westerners, especially Americans.

I recommend it highly.

Stan - Thursday


  1. Hi Stan,

    I am so happy to see the book is great although it had to be given what a delightful personality Tamar Myers is. She was funny, charming and everything else you could ask for at Bouchercon and I will certainly pick up a copy when I see one.


  2. I concur, Stan. The book is an outstanding read. And Tamar, in person, is a delight.
    Aside from her stories about Africa, there was this:
    "If anyone buys the paperback, I'll sign it 'Love, Tamar'. The hard covers I sign 'Thanks for last night.'"

  3. Me too, Stan -- per your suggestion, ordered from Amazon the other day. Should arrive tomorrow. Thanks for the recco.

  4. Hi,

    I was also fortunate to meet Tamar at Bouchercon.

    I couldn't take my eyes off her during the discussion, her stories were mesmerizing.

    When the discussion was over I pushed through a crowd of people to catch up with her. She is so absolutely charming and warm.

    If I ever have a chance to meet her again, I wonder if she would have lunch with me.

    She's sweet, after I caught up with her and we talked a bit, she said she had a copy of her new book she wanted me to have, the witch doctor's wife.

    I wish her the best of luck and much success with her new book.

    Tamar, if you're reading this, I'm Susie from the Nordic/British/Irish thread on amazon's Mystery Community Discussion.

    I would love if you would stop by and talk about your book or when your neighbors on the Congo would pat your head to see if it would be suitable for a soup turine.