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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
The African Piper of Harlem: A Tale of Bullies and Deception is a novella based on the classic Robert Browning story, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, written by Zeena Nackerdien. Ola was a sixteen-year-old whose coming of age came under the most trying of circumstances. Her mom had died of cancer shortly before Ola gave birth to twins. Ola was determined to go on to college after high school, but she found even her guidance counselor was unwilling to help her overcome the obstacles to higher education. She balanced work, babies, school and elder care of a dad, whose disapproval was writ large in every interaction they had. Her kids, Bilal and Nawaal, were subjected to bullying when they were old enough for school. Their accents were different, cause enough for bullies to target them, but also the family’s need to buy inexpensive clothing and school supplies helped to isolate them and make them prime victims. Their tormentors even followed them into church where Nawaal’s braids were pulled and Bilal was tripped. Ola felt at her wits’ end. She had no idea how to help her kids when suddenly a strangely dressed woman appeared at her door. She was richly attired in Nigerian garb, and she promised that she could rid the city of all bullies -- for a price.
Zeena Nackerdien’s modern rewriting of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, The African Piper of Harlem, mingles fact and fantasy as the mysterious and powerful Abekepi makes Ola and her father an offer they can’t refuse. Who wouldn’t want to see the world cleansed of bullies and bullying. But the act is much more horrifying than anyone could ever have imagined, and the piper’s demand for recompense is made in the most threatening of ways. Nackerdien’s tale aptly addresses the issues facing young women of color, particularly those who have children to raise on their own. I appreciated how she uses her fable to shed light on ongoing contemporary problems such as gentrification, access to continued education and the culture shock experienced by new citizens. I loved learning more about the Yoruba culture of Nigeria that Ola and her parents shared. The African Piper of Harlem is well written and engaging -- and it makes you think, which is a very good thing. It’s most highly recommended.