Monday, November 25, 2013
The Palaver Tree by Wendy Unsworth
Ellie Hathaway lives a quiet life in Berriwood, Cornwall. She had married late to her husband, John, but life with him was sweet. She lived a life of preplanned routine, gardening, going to various village functions, spending time with her best friend, Dianne. That all changed the night John went out to walk the dog and didn't return, the victim of a hit and run driver.
John leaves Ellie very well off. Needing a change in her life, she is an easy prey for Gabriel Cole, the founder of The Hope Foundation, a charity Dianne fund raises for. He offers Ellie a position as the teacher at the African school the foundation maintains, in return for her financial support of the charity. Desperate for a change, Ellie agrees and flies off to a new life in Africa.
Once there, she settles into her new life. She loves the school and all the children there, although she had not realized how destitute the area was or how much poverty affected the lives of all who lived there. She makes friends in the area. First are Promise and Sulieman, native teachers at the school. Soon she meets Marc and Pax, cousins who are native-born although white. She soon develops a romantic interest in Marc, which he returns.
But all is not well. The longer Ellie is in Africa, the more suspicious she is of Gabriel. His stories don't seem to add up. The school constantly needs money, while he lives in a mansion. There are differing stories about what happened to his wife. Then there are the women. It seems that there is a woman wherever you turn who Gabriel is stringing along, either for money or sex or both.
As Ellie starts to add up her suspicions against Gabriel, the country explodes. A new President takes over, and immediately starts to wreck havoc and take revenge against those who oppose him. Soon civil war erupts, and life is not safe, especially for the foreigners who have come to the country. Will Ellie survive her new life?
Wendy Unsworth has written a fascinating tale of Africa and how easy it is to be taken in when one wants to change their life. She has lived in several African countries so the surroundings she creates in the story ring true. Another major strength is the creation of Gabriel, a con man extraordinaire. Reading the book, it becomes clear to the reader how easily an average person who lives their life as morally as possible can be tricked and scammed by someone who doesn't share their moral outlook. Readers will enjoy the trip to another land, and the neat resolution of all the threads of the story in the end. This book is recommended for readers interested in other cultures.