Vivid tale by Warwickshire writer delves into the Congo jungle

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Bride Price by Ian Mathie, Mosaique Press £12.99.

AN incredible world far-removed to anything most of us will have experienced is brought to life in this memoir by Fenny Compton retiree Ian Mathie.

The 60-year-old, who went to primary school and later spent 28 years working in countries around the African continent, in this book revisits his time as a rural development officer and water resources expert in the tropical forests of Zaire (now the Congo), when he found himself foster father of an orphaned teenage girl.

As was customary in that community, Ian was asked to set a ‘bride price’ for his foster daughter Abele by what you might call a typical villain - a rich and powerful man with political links who is widely feared and detested in villages around the area. How he faces such a challenge while protecting Abele from the ‘bad guy’ forms the main thrust of the book.

Vivid scenes are brought to life by Ian with effective descriptions evoking the sights, sounds and smells he encountered - particularly useful for a reader like myself who has never been to an African jungle and was not yet born during the 1970s when the events occurred.

We often read about tribal communities in the more rural spots living in very similar ways to their ancestors hundreds of years before them and following the same customs, rituals, ways of thinking and beliefs. But Ian’s writings in this memoir - rather than factual - form somehow makes it more real, as he is in the middle of it as an English outsider.

And he bares no bones in some very brutal scenes which feel all the more shocking as we know this is not fiction. If he intended to expose the goings-on in a little-known world, he succeeds very well.

But despite the fascinating subject matter, the book as a whole did not seem to engage me as much as I had been expecting. It could have done with more dialogue and some of the scenes were longer than they needed to be.

Nevertheless, if you are looking for something insightful and thought-provoking to read, this is definitely worth picking up.

Sundari Sankar