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This is set in Africa (Liberia, per the flap) where a man of 40, on a night the electricity goes out, tells of the evil and good that came on a dark night when he was ten, in the same house but with bush all around, ""before the town grew to meet it."" At ten, then, Momo lives with his baby sister Meatta, his Ma, and his Old Ma, long blind from the pox. Pa has been killed by a two-step snake. When traveling strangers knock in the night, Old Ma would keep them out, but Ma, taking pity, lets them in. The next morning the visiting young woman and old woman are gone, but they have left behind their baby, who is covered with the red sores of smallpox. And so begins the ordeal, with Meatta dying of the pox, Memo sick and recovering, and Ma, worse hit, emerging from the fever half-blind, bald, and covered with scabs and ""folded rot."" For Ma has insisted on keeping the strangers' baby, though her Ma would give it to the bush or the river. Ma can't say why she must keep the baby, any more than she can understand Old Ma or her own sister Musu--who comes to help when Ma is sick, but confesses then that it was she who sent the strangers to them. ""Musu, if I were well I would kill you,"" says Ma. Then there's the final irony when the minister's wife sees Ma's pox as punishment for ""very bad sin"" and Musu's immunity as evidence of ""a deep and good heart."" Given character and poignance by its setting, an African community to which Christianity had come, making converts and confusion, it's an unabashed moral tale and a crowd-holding story, with the moral content central to the story interest.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1982
ISBN: 0618494839
Publisher: Parnassus/Houghton Mifflin