Thirteen-year-old healer Shida (Swahili for “problem”) can’t save 6-year-old Furaha (“happiness”) from an untimely death in the Tanzanian village of Njia Panda that its inhabitants label cursed.
Despite having penned this work of fiction as an outsider to the culture, Quirk’s debut novel for children gives readers an intimate view of rural Tanzania in the early 1970s through details of daily life, folklore, family dynamics and spiritual beliefs. A budding healer, Shida is blamed for her father’s death, which occurred at Shida’s birth, and this weighs heavily on her. Since that time, her mother has wallowed in self-pity and refused to work. When President Nyerere asks Shida’s village to become a model of ujamaa (familyhood) for the country by moving to Njia Panda and farming communally, Shida eagerly anticipates what she has never had: an education and a nursing mentor. After the move, however, the cotton crop mysteriously fails overnight, the villagers’ prize possessions, their cattle, escape from their pens, and Furaha dies of fever. With the help of Shida and her cousin Grace, Babu, their grandfather and the village elder, unearths the truth. The novel offers a captivating introduction to Tanzanian life, culture and language (both Swahili and Sukuma), while the mystery of who has cast the “curse” keeps readers intrigued.
A mesmerizing read that expands young readers’ worldview even as the pages turn. (glossary, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)