Abasi lives in the Rustlands, an area of Takataka Dumps, one of the largest landfills in Tanzania. He lives alone in a part of the dump avoided by others who inhabit The Filth, that area of the dump with newer trash, but more danger. Abasi lives alone, partly by choice, and partly because he is zeru, or albino. His lack of pigmentation makes him a target of ridicule, abuse and fear from others who do not understand his condition, or the target of death and mutilation from those who think the zeru is a source of some magical power.
When a marauding witch doctor and his gang, looking for slave laborers, invade the dump and spot Abasi, his life, already miserable since his family was slaughtered by drunken fellow villagers, takes a decided turn for the worse. His only hope is the troop of baboons who occupy Baboon Hill, on the border of the Rustlands.
In Zeru by Philip Vargas, we see a world that few people are even aware of; a world of intense poverty, and the violence it breeds; a world of superstition; and as world of survival and hope. Though a fictional account, Vargas’s tale is an authentic rendering of life in Africa for those who are different, especially people suffering from albinism, who are brutalized in even some of the more developed countries of the continent.
Zeru is not a book for the faint hearted. It has vividly painted scenes of violence and bloodshed that will sicken many. But, in this case, Vargas has merely done what a good writer must, he has held up a mirror to life as it is, and in so doing, hopefully, made us more aware of what needs to be fixed.
This is an easy five star book, which I received a free review copy of, and I look forward to the promised sequel.