Reviewed By Viga Boland for Readers’ Favorite
Diandra Forrest is a tall, absolutely stunning model, whose photo appears in the June 2017 National Geographic. What does Diandra have to do with this fictional book, Pigment, by Renee Topper? Everything and nothing. You see, Diandra is an African-American Albino, one of the luckier members of that group of people born with a genetic mutation that interferes with the amount of melanin in their bodies, leaving most of them with nearly translucent white skin, very weak eyes, white to pale orange hair and the lifetime risk of skin cancer from exposure to the sun. Why is Diandra one of the lucky ones? Unlike the thousands of albino children and adults abducted, mutilated and left to die in Tanzania, Africa, Diandra didn’t grow up there. Aliya, the female protagonist of Pigment is much like Diandra. She is a beautiful young woman who grows up in the the US. A newly graduated teacher, she heads for Tanzania on a mission: to help bring awareness to the horrible plight of albinos, to help in the fight against the crimes committed against them, and to assist young albino children to grow up loving and appreciating how special they are. It’s a noble mission fraught with danger, especially in Tanzania, but Aliya is obstinate and determined to be successful.
Does she succeed? Reading Pigment is a voyage on a stormy ocean that will leave readers unbelieving and breathless as they turn the pages. Pigment is impossible to put down. There is no wasted time, no unnecessary asides and no irrelevant action. The action never stops. Nor do the emotional highs and lows. When Aliya disappears, her retired military-trained father, Jalil, immediately flies to Tanzania and charges like a bull into a ring of deception. After all, when money is involved…and there’s lots of money involved in hunting down, abducting and murdering Albinos for their prized body parts and blood…cover ups are everywhere. Separating truth from lies, the good from the bad, and locating those responsible is near impossible. Danger and death is all around.
If, while reading Pigment, readers find themselves not wanting to believe the brutality depicted…and much of it is nauseating…reading the article “The Perils of Pale” in that issue of National Geographic mentioned above will lend credibility to the story Renee Topper has depicted so expertly in Pigment. Topper has created a fictional organization that works to help and protect Albino children, but there actually is such a group. You can find them, and donate to their cause at www.underthesamesun.com. This non-profit organization keeps detailed, gruesome records: “Since the 1990’s, in 27 African countries, at least 190 Albinos have been killed and 300 attacked, most since 2008. The epicenter of this crime wave, which includes the robbing of graves, is Tanzania.”
What is shocking to read, and Topper cites just such a situation in Pigment, is the number of fathers and relatives who will maim or slaughter an albino child not just for money…many Tanzanians are incredibly poor and hungry…but because of their belief in the teachings of the witch doctors. It’s hard to win a battle against such deeply ingrained beliefs. And it appears that it’s even harder to prosecute the criminals behind such financially lucrative operations. Read Pigment and prepare to weep over the travesties against humanity portrayed by Renee Topper. Moving and unforgettable.
Reviewed By Heather Osborne for Readers’ Favorite
Pigment: The Limbs of the Mukuyu Tree by Renee Topper is the harrowing tale of a young albino woman who travelled to Africa to better understand the strange cultural practices surrounding her condition. However, she enters a world far different than she imagined, where albinos are treated as ghosts, not even human, and their limbs and bodies are brutally harvested for use in ancient rituals. Aliya Scott wants nothing more than to help the children victimized by this horrible practice, but when she goes missing, her father launches a search, encountering things he had never expected in the quest to save his daughter before it’s too late.
Admittedly, I was not sure what to expect when I picked up this book. I was aware of these practices in African countries toward albino people, especially children, and that is what drew me to want to read this book. There are no pretenses made in this novel. Renee Topper presents a harsh reality of how albino people in Africa live in fear of being mutilated for witchcraft. I found both journeys—that of Aliya and her father—equally heartbreaking. I wish there had been more discussion of how other governments are working to help fight this atrocity—if at all. Overall, Pigment: The Limbs of the Mukuyu Tree by Renee Topper is worth a read, not just as a tragic story, but to inform the rest of the world of what is going on in these countries, and hopefully spur people on to take action to keep albinos safe from these antiquated practices.