Golden Boy

368p. glossary. Putnam. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-16112-4.
RedReviewStarGr 8 Up—Habo, 13, knows that his albinism makes him a zeruzeru, less than a person. His skin burns easily, and his poor eyesight makes school almost impossible. People shun or mock him. Unable to accept his son's white skin and yellow hair, his father abandoned the family, and they cannot manage their drought-ravaged farm in a small Tanzanian village. Habo and his mother, sister, and brother travel across the Serengeti to seek refuge with his aunt's family in Mwanza. Along the way, they hitch a ride with an ivory poacher, Alasiri, who kills elephants without remorse for the money the tusks bring. In Mwanza, the family learns that one commodity can fetch even higher prices: a zeruzeru. Rich people will pay handsomely for albino body parts, and Alasiri plans to make his fortune. Habo must flee to Dar es Salaam before he is killed. After a harrowing escape, he reaches the city and miraculously encounters a person to whom his appearance makes no difference: a blind woodcarver named Kweli. Slowly Habo develops a sense of self-worth as well as carving skills. When Alasiri brings ivory for Kweli to carve, the boy and old man work with the police to send the hunter to prison. Habo's gripping account propels readers along. His narrative reveals his despair, anger, and bewilderment, but there are humorous moments, too. Although fortuitous encounters and repeated escapes may seem unlikely, the truth underlying the novel is even more unbelievable. In Tanzania, people with albinism have been maimed and killed for their body parts, thought to bring good luck. Readers will be haunted by Habo's voice as he seeks a place of dignity and respect in society. An important and affecting story.—Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State University, Mankato
Habo is a zeruzeru -- an albino -- who believes it is his fault that his family was evicted from its farm outside of Arusha, Tanzania. On the road to Mwanza to live with relatives, the family falls in with an ivory poacher, Alasiri, who forces Habo and his brother to help with his grisly trade in exchange for a ride. Once in Mwanza, Habo's situation worsens: in the northern regions of Tanzania, superstition holds that the hands, legs, skin, and hair of a zeruzeru can be used to make powerful good-luck charms, and Alasiri tries to murder Habo for his body parts, which are worth a considerable sum. Sullivan excels at conveying Habo's feelings of freakishness and alienation (unable to bear sunlight, he can't work like other boys his age; his sister Asu is the only sympathetic family member), as well as his mortal terror during Alasiri's attack and his recurring fears even after he flees to Dar-es-Salaam. There he becomes apprenticed to a blind woodcarver, whose gruff kindness creates such a haven of peace that Habo will do anything to retain his fortunate position. By the time Alasiri shows up to menace him again, Habo has gained skills, friends, and a belief in his own worth that allows him to challenge both the poacher and a justice system inclined to look the other way. Though Sullivan's portrayal of Tanzanian culture can be spotty, her understanding of human emotion and personal growth is deep and genuine, and her efforts to draw attention to this human rights abuse are commendable. An author's note, glossary of Kiswahili words and phrases, and resources are appended. anita l. burkam

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