(Image Courtesy of Amazon.Com)
I really enjoyed reading King Peggy by Peggieline Bartels and Eleanor Herman. The book was selected as the One Maryland One Book for 2013. See http://www.mdhc.org/programs/one-maryland-one-book/ for details.
The book chronicles the rise of Peggy Bartels, who holds both Ghanian and United Stats citizenship, to kingship in Otuam, Ghana. A receptionist at the Ghanian embassy in Washington DC who lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, Peggy’s life changes drastically in August of 2008 when her cousin, Kwame Lumpopo, telephones to inform her that she has been selected Otuam’s new king. It turns out that Otuam’s previous king, Peggy’s Uncle Joseph, has died and Peggy has been picked by the elders and the ancestors to be the new king.
I enjoyed learning about the discrepancies between Peggy’s African roots and her U.S. background. For instance Peggy (on pages 60- 61) talks about the difference between the warmth of African family/friends and the cold isolated existence she sometimes feels in the U.S. As Peggy notes, “In the United States, she did her job and came home to her condo. Sometimes she feared that if she died in her condo or had a stroke, no one would find her for weeks. That would be impossible in Ghana. There would always be relatives calling to see how you were, banging on your door, bringing you plates of fish and rice, inviting you to church and family events.”
Another discrepancy hinted at in the book is Peggy’s observation of the U.S. diet/ sedentary lifestyle as being a source of impotency. When one of Peggy’s town elders, 77 year old Tsiami, tells everyone that he is going to have a quickie with a girlfriend, Peggy reflects (pages 198 to 199). “In the United States, some men in their forties had to use Viagra because all the stress and preservatives had turned their private parts to mashed potatoes. But in Otuam, eighty-year-olds walked around with an eternal hard-on. Peggy thought it was the food they ate- fresh fish, fresh vegetables, and fresh fruit with no chemicals- and they were always walking miles and miles every day because they had no cars, or were hauling in heavy nets of fish, or working in the fields.”
Peggy’s commentary on U.S. lifestyles versus African lifestyles is also worth noting. Pages 158 and 159 reveal Peggy’s thoughts, on the role of technology that has inhibited healthy human interaction in the U.S., are contrasted with her observations of African social life. “Many Africans saw America as a promised land because it was rich in conveniences and gadgets. Americans could make hot air cool and cold air warm. They almost all had running water. They could send men to the moon and cure many cancers. But many of them couldn’t loosen their grip on their remote controls enough to sit on a breezy porch with friends and family, talking about nothing in particular, or sitting in contented silence listening to the birds. If some of them were sitting here now on the porch, she thought, with birds singing and children playing and sunshine slanting through the trees, they would nervously whip a remote control out of their pockets and start pushing buttons.”
Peggy herself affirms that she is both African and American. While Peggy notes that certain aspects of African culture are perhaps far healthier than U.S. culture, she does reveal an admiration for the advancement of women in U.S. society. Peggy notes that she has found African women to be far too timid to stand up for themselves especially when being taken advantage of by a man. On page 14 Peggy notes, “Sometimes Peggy wondered how on earth she could be an African woman. She was much more like an American woman, always had been. When talking to a man she fixed her eyes on him with an unblinking stare, and the moment he disrespected her she let him have it with her big mouth.”
Another positive aspect of U.S. culture that Peggy brings to her kingship is the American belief in changing unjust societies to better serve the people. When Peggy gets into an argument with her corrupt council of elders she invokes some of her American identity on page 209. “Change has come to America, and I have come from America to bring change to Otuam! I am the Obama of this place!”
Ultimately, Peggy’s kingship is the tale of her confrontation with a corrupt group of town elders, who seek to live lavishly both off of the town of Otuam and off of Peggy herself. In order to secure clean drinking water, basic medical services, educational improvements, and a habitable town palace Peggy finds herself on a collision course with the town elders. Theft and lies abound within the town’s leadership. Peggy finds some unlikely allies in Africa and the U.S. that help her to get Otuam on the right track. This reviewer encourages others to read the book for a full appreciation of what King Peggy had to accomplish. Readers will be held captive by what takes place when Peggy has the previous king buried. This is a great book that is well worth reading. Many public libraries in Maryland will be discussing the book so readers should consult their local public library to participate in a book discussion