This review was first posted to this new blog on June 30, 2010. It was the seventh book reviewed. WIFE OF THE GODS is great story-telling and an insightful look at a human rights violation that gets little, if any, attention. Once started, it grabs the readers’ attention so that it is impossible to put down.
WIFE OF THE GODS – Kwei Quartey
WIFE OF THE GODS is two stories. The first story begins with the discovery of the body of Gladys Mensah in the forest outside the town of Ketanu. Gladys is a medical student and a volunteer AIDS worker. Efia finds the body early one morning. “Efia was a trokosi, which meant she belonged to the gods.” In Efia’s life that means belonging to Togbe Adzima, the chief and the High Priest of the village. Eighteen years earlier, Efia’s uncle murdered a man and, although he is in prison, the family has been cursed with unending signs of the gods displeasure. Desperate for a reversal of fortune, the elders of her family go to the high priest, asking him to intercede on their behalf so that there torment will be ended. Togbe communes with the gods and learns that all will be well if they bring him a female child to serve at the shrine. She will belong to the gods and she will give birth to the children they give her through Togbe. At the age of twelve, Efia becomes a wife of the gods. Gladys and Efia belong to two different worlds but in a small town in Ghana, their stories come together through fear and superstition.
Detective Inspector Darko Dawson is assigned to the homicide division of the CID in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Darko has a wife and a son, a brother and a father, and he is a thoroughly modern man. But he also has ties to Ketanu. His mother was born in the village and his aunt and uncle are living there. Most importantly, from his superior’s point of view, is that Darko speaks Ewe, the local dialect. Darko is not happy to return to Ketanu. When he was 12 years old, his mother disappeared on her way home from a visit to her sister. Darko has been haunted by dreams of his mother and he has spent his life ever since trying to understand what happened to her. Darko’s story is the second story that is woven with the first to produce a very satisfying book that owes it resolution as much to Darko’s response to the sounds he hears as it is to modern police work.
There is a large cast of characters in WIFE OF THE GODS, all in some way touched by superstition and the practices of an old culture. Darko is especially sensitive to the sounds of speech. He can hear a lie in a voice. Despite Gladys’ efforts as an AIDS educator, some believe that AIDS is caused by a curse. Faith healers prey on desperate people. Secrets are hidden until they cry out to be spoken. Greed and jealousy are as old humanity and as new as the next breath. Lust and love lead to obsession. And there are the trokosi who have no way to flee from the brutality they face as a WIFE OF THE GODS.
Kwei Quartey was born in Ghana, the son of a Ghanaian man and an African-American woman. When his father died, he moved to the United States with his mother and he is now a practicing physician in California. In researching his book, he looked at all aspects of the culture, including the trokosi. Although the practice has been outlawed, it has not disappeared because many in Ghana still believe is the power of the chiefs and high priests. The media has made known practices that violate human rights but the trokosis have yet to come to light in the main stream media.