A sinister undercurrent running through my book Burning Embers is fuelled by native African culture embodying voodoo magic, witchcraft and evil intent – all under the auspices of the witch doctor. The protagonist’s former yaha (nanny), Aluna, is a big believer in all that is supernatural, and she stirs in Coral seeds of mistrust and suspicion. The insinuation is that Rafe, the man with whom Coral is fast falling in love, has a darkness within and is to be avoided at all costs. This negative message is confirmed by warnings from a disturbing and powerful African witch doctor, who does his best to break apart the lovers.
Poor Coral is just as the song from the 1940 Rodgers and Hart musical: ‘bewitched, bothered and bewildered’. She has come back to her homeland, Kenya, and must re-immerse herself in its culture; but the native practices frighten her – the drums that signal the sacrifice seem to pound out the very heartbeat of the land. Should she listen to the messages around her? Should she believe the witch doctor, who tells her Rafe is a bad man, out to exploit her? Or should she follow her heart, and have faith in Rafe?
The choice, on paper, seems fairly straightforward: believe in love. But this is Kenya in the early 1970s. This is a witch doctor with a tangible power – a sorcerer, Aluna believes. This is a culture in which the shaman is respected, revered, trusted. This, she discovers, is where her father changed from pragmatic skeptic to believer, if the book by his bedside, L’Exteriorisation de la Sensibilité, une Etude Experimentale et Historique (Psychology Esoteric Hypnotism Reincarnation Occult), is anything to go by. It will take strength, courage and clarity of mind for Coral to go against the grain of common opinion and open her heart to Rafe.
And what of Rafe, victim of these magical, mystical people who have made their mind up about him without having all the facts? One would expect that he is a non-believer, knowing as he does that the rumours about him lack factual basis. And yet through the book we see that he is very much a part of the African culture in which he resides – and his battle in the book in many ways is to resists the ‘bewitchment’ of Coral, who wields some power over his heart that frightens him.
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered are both Rafe and Coral.