Cobalt Chronicles
by Kathryn Den Houter
Mission Point Press

"…I do know that women need to be empowered by using the best tool available—education."

A childhood that never existed cannot end. Young Congolese girl Esynama toils in her country’s lucrative cobalt mines starting when she should begin to go to school. Her scant wages always go to pay her father’s gambling debts. When she is eleven, her mother dies. Nevertheless, Esy’s mother always believed in the power of education to make a more meaningful life for her daughter. Finding encouragement in the pages of her mother’s diary, Esy seizes the opportunity to attend classes. But when she herself becomes a mother at age 13, she must trade book smarts for the wisdom of the streets of her war-torn nation. Women in her society serve only one purpose to predatory men. Raw survival instinct supersedes, but never banishes, her desire for intellectual growth. Then, a merciless attack nearly ends both Esy’s dreams and her practical plans for survival. Will she ever complete her long-sought education?

This novel exemplifies the adverse effects of European colonization and natural resource exploitation on African natives, particularly, in this case, on the people of the Congo. To write it, the author drew on her experiences during a trip she took to Africa. She writes of how the economic, educational, and sexual abuse of children, of the sort that Esy endured in the 1950s and 1960s, exists to this day. The story contains a pervasive Christian message of hope and forgiveness for one’s enemies. As an example of women’s fiction, it may appeal especially to women of color who entertain firm convictions about women’s education and self-determination. Unusually for a book that discusses sexual assault and other forms of sexual exploitation, this one does so without graphically detailing the physical acts performed. Instead, it refreshingly focuses on and validates the thoughts, feelings, and insecurities of victims in the wake of such trauma.

Category Finalist for the 2021 Eric Hoffer Book Award

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