J.K. Muta (Janet Muta) will read from and will sign copies of her book, Under Man’s Spell on Sat. Nov 21st at 7pm at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham. Come join her — here’s my review of her book to give you a taste of what she’ll talk about at her reading:

Under Man's Spell Under Man’s Spell by J.K. Muta

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Dedicated “to all the women who are striving to empower themselves and others,” Under Man’s Spell is a powerful fictional account (though based on true events in Tanzania) of the struggle by women to become independent of the men who “own them, so they can become respected members of their communities.

The novel introduces and follows several families’ lives in an unnamed African country; the families in the novel are linked by blood lines and marriage. The main theme of the story is the impact that tradition and superstition has on the women in these families. Girls as young as twelve are married off to men who are their father’s age; women are raped by their husbands, their stepsons, their fathers-in-law; old women are burnt for being witches, just because their old age has given them wrinkles, red eyes and a confused mind; albinos are stoned to death or sacrificially killed to obtain their body parts for witch doctors; and virgins and babies are raped by HIV sufferers who have been told by witch doctors that this will cure them.

Contrasting with these horrific events are the stories of Pili, Esta and Sara, who have managed to break free from the violence, intimidation and sexual aggression directed towards them by their men folk to build new lives for themselves. Time and time again it is proven in the story that what women need is money – their own money and the ability to control that money. The only way these women escape is by hoarding enough savings to use them to travel as far away as possible from their husbands and partners, and get far enough away so that they cannot be found and dragged back to the lives they have left behind. But money is only part of the solution. The women in this novel show a level of strength and determination that few women living in the western world would ever need to display. Beaten but not bowed, Pili, Esta, Sara fight superstition, tradition and the male assumption that women are inferior, to emerge as strong and independent women surviving against all the odds.

Under Man’s Spell has an almost lyrical feel to it at times, lulling you with its description of the rhythms of village life. But then Muta surprises the reader by casually introducing another atrocity. Juxtaposing happy scenes where women are supporting and encouraging each other with scenes of violence, rapes and beatings, the author continues to unsettle the reader throughout the book, making them think hard about the depredations and degradations that these women live with. The opening chapter is fascinating in its detail of family life, the demarcations between male and female roles, its descriptions of the endless chores that are repeated day after day, to keep food on the table and a roof over the head. This is a must read, not only to be reminded of how much so many women still have to struggle for a voice and for respect in the 21st century, but also to be reminded of how lucky we are here in the western world.

The author of Under Man’s Spell, J.K. Muta (also known as Janet K. Mutahangarwa) was born in Tanzania. After finishing her high school education, Janet moved to the U.S. where she completed degrees in both business and finance. Now living in North Carolina with her family, J.K.Muta is also the author of Among Us, her first published book.

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