Title: Spiral Aloe: Deceit in Lesotho, Africa’s Mountain Kingdom
Author: L.A. Forbes
Released: January 2013
Publisher: L.A. Forbes (self-published)
Synopsis:Sarah’s bored with her American life, as well as all the traffic and big box stores. She accepts a Peace Corps invitation to volunteer in exotic Lesotho in southern Africa. The idyllic, seven thousand foot mountain village of Malikeng has ambitious residents with limited choices. A pious neighbor brews homemade beer to sell at her backyard shebeen; a handsome neighbor grows dagga between rows of maize. Problems in the past were taken care of by the chief or the sangoma (traditional healer), but a new generation would rather do it their way—with consequences. Some decisions seem medieval to Sarah, and she’s caught in a spiral of deceit as her first year progresses.
Spiral Aloe is a short novel classified as literary/anthropological fiction. The story takes place in the fictional village of Malikeng, in the actual country of Lesotho, an enclave surrounded by South Africa.
I loved how Forbes included the Sesotho language throughout. The first appearance of a Sesotho word included a translation in parentheses; but only at the first appearance, which prevented any interruption to the flow of the story. There is also a glossary on the last few pages of the book, if needed. She also includes a number of color photographs throughout the book, which was a real treat! Although this area of the world is unfamiliar to me, the photos helped me see the book’s setting in my mind.
Once in a while, Sarah rubbed me the wrong way. She seemed to be eager to point out the faults of Americans, and to agree when others mentioned faults, but she never really spoke well of her own country. It was stated that Sarah came to Lesotho because she’d grown cynical and needed a break, but I grew tired of always hearing negative things every time the U.S. came up in conversation.
I was struck by the underlying themes of colonialism and apartheid. I thought these things were well enough in the past, but the story showed how the aftermath (especially of apartheid) continues to influence the attitudes and behavior of the people. This added a layer of complexity to the problems facing the people of this remote village.
Sometimes the dialogue felt slightly stilted, but overall it was good. The narrative was rich and descriptive without being too wordy, and I enjoyed that very much.
The novel seemed to wrap up very quickly. Depending on the reader’s interpretation, I think the end could be viewed as either a poetic completion of the story, or as if the author maybe be leaving room for a sequel. If it’s the latter, I know I’d want to read more!
Readers who enjoy fiction that includes non-fiction elements of cultural and anthropological interest would enjoy L.A. Forbes’s Spiral Aloe.
I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.