The sales from this novel have left publishers astonished. Not just because of its phenomenal success, but because of the duration of that success. What has made this such an outlier in the publishing world? Some may say the fascinating back story has something to do with it.
I’m not going to get into that here, but there’s plenty about it online if you are so inspired.
My interest in the book lay partly due to the author having spent time in Zambia, where I grew up. There’s no doubt she has led a fascinating life – and I intend to read one of her other books called ‘The Eye of the Elephant.’
The novel starts poignantly as four-year-old Kya watches her mother walk down the road with her suitcase, without looking back. Kya doesn’t know it then, but her mother is never coming back. Left with her siblings who are all much older than her, and are leaving home fast, Kya is soon abandoned and isolated. Her father is a chronic alcoholic and she spends much of her time hiding from his temper. Her mother had taken one beating too many – hence her departure.
Kya’s journey of survival begins at a very young age. By the time she reaches her teens, she is completely alone and has been nicknamed ‘The marsh girl,’ by the residents of this small town in North Carolina.
Running parallel to Kya’s story is the story of the murder of a young man, Chase Andrews, the town’s rich kid and a former high school quarterback.
I believe the reason this book continues to be on the bestseller list is due to several factors. The author’s evident passion for, and beautiful descriptions of the natural world. The marsh is so vividly evoked, I could totally lose myself in the depictions, such as ‘the ballet of fireflies,’ mentions of egrets, slate coloured skies, cicadas and gulls. Kya immerses herself wholly and completely into her surroundings. It is her security and her sole comfort.
Its success is also because it is a gripping tale of survival in a very unusual setting. We all love a story of someone fighting to survive against all the odds. Every day is a battle for Kya. She battles to feed herself, to fight off the nasty young men who are all secretly attracted to her, and to survive the loneliness that threatens to engulf her. Small town gossip and racial tensions heighten the atmosphere. In fact, Kya’s only two supporters are a coloured couple who are mainly ostracised from the community themselves.
Finally, this book is a winner because the prose is evocative, engaging, lyrical and character driven. I cared about what happened to Kya, I was rooting for her from her childhood onwards. We love a story of the underdog winning in the end. But does she? You’ll have to read it to find out!
It’s brilliant. Just read it! You are in for an absolute treat!