Mini Review: My Totem Came Calling

Title: My Totem Came Calling

Author: Blessing Musariri & Thorsten Nesch

Genres:  Contemporary

Pages: 182

Publisher: Mawenzi House

Review Copy: ARC from publisher

Availability: Available Sept. 30th

Summary:   Chanda is a seventeen-year-old schoolgirl in Harare, Zimbabwe, who suffers from unexplained memory lapses, which become even more worrisome when she starts seeing her totem animal, a zebra, in all sorts of places. But nobody else can see it.

Afraid of being institutionalized in a hospital, she follows the advice of an old aunt and sets off for her ancestral village, a backward, primitive settlement without the amenities she is used to in the city. But there she meets the rest of her family, including her grandmother, and learns the hard way who she really is–not a superficial, rich city girl with foreign habits but someone who is somebody, whose name carries a history of her African people.

Review: First off, I want to say Thank You to Mawenzi House Publishers for sending me this ARC. I was not expecting it so it was a lovely surprise to receive. You all know I’m all about reading books in translation/international books, so I was excited to read “My Totem Came Calling.”

Unfortunately, upon finishing the novel I was a bit unsettled and I initially couldn’t figure out why. I was drawn into the story, the novel moved at a good pace, so what was it that I felt was missing? Eventually I figured out that I was so into the world of the story that I wanted more, and my writer side came out with the thought that I feel like the two authors could have added much more depth to the novel. I feel like the resolution came too quickly and that Chanda’s acceptance of her self and her family was too easy. She was hesitant to embrace this other part of her almost until the last few pages. I feel like the authors could have slowed down the narrative a bit and have Chanda really explore what it meant to be a part of her family, specifically whom she is named after. The reader learns of the connection between Chanda’s illness and to her name, but Chanda never finds out and I would have loved to know what she would have done with that information. How would the knowledge about her namesake have truly changed Chanda? I really would have loved to the answer to that question and I feel like the authors missed an opportunity to do some deep character development.

On the other hand, getting a glimpse of teen life in Harare, Zimbabwe, especially from the privilege class, was so interesting. There is a tension that existed between those that live in the city versus those that live in the countryside (as in any country) but the difference with this novel is that Chanda’s parents have essentially eschewed the traditional ways for more evangelical Christian, therefore Chanda doesn’t know much about her ancestors and her attitude towards her family is one of condescension. It actually makes her somewhat unlikable, but she’s needs to have that belief in order to find herself and discover the deeper meaning of family.

Over all, I enjoyed the book and learned much about a life so different from my own. It was a wonderful window to peer through and I would recommend for other teens to read.