Review — WATER DRUMMING IN THE SOUL by Eric Madeen (Gabon)


Water Drumming in the Soul: A Novel of Racy Love in the Heart of Africa
by Eric Madeen (Gabon 1981-83)
Independently published
218 pages
April 2021
$ 2.99 (Kindle); $9.99 (Paperback)

Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962-64)

Readers are quickly drawn into the adventure of David as he travels in a foreign culture as seen through his eyes as a newly arrived Peace Corps Volunteer approaching the area where he will live and work for two years deep in Africa. Countless descriptions scattered throughout the book remind us how much the environment influences and impacts those who live there. All of our senses are called upon, including the sound of water drumming as it reverberates into David’s soul drawing him to the origin of the drumming, a beautiful nude brown woman glimmering in a pool of water beating the water with her hands like an instrument, singing as lustily and loudly as she can or wants.

In contrast, David, who is filthy after 3 days of driving over dusty road, is tall and his clothing is covered with red dirt, and is very white with lots of blond tousled hair. Picture her staring, and at a loss for words! What is this?  Picture him staring and at a loss for words! Who is this?

We are at once inside David’s head, every inch a young white American male, as well as in the head of Assam, an extraordinarily beautiful black woman. Her mind begins to inform us about her world of myths, witches, spells, taboos, beauty, customs and so much more.

David, with an excellent American education, has been sent to build a medical building for her village. He must take charge of this task single-handedly with somewhat remiss supervision from Peace Corps staff who live a distance away, as well as local chieftains and those officials in charge.

Remarkably, the project takes a life of its own with the help of local manpower, and in spite of David’s  captivation with Assam. All of the warnings by Peace Corps staff and former Volunteers about having relationships with locals is thrown to the winds as her beauty and magic weaves a net around him.  She also ignores warnings from her family.

As the cover says, “What a rollicking game of love it is . . . with a tension of excitement between them that never dissipates . . . until . . ..”

As the physical building of a medical building continues, I was reminded of the always-present concern of the Peace Corp: how to be useful without taking over, or controlling projects and making it one’s own . . . the usual white man’s process. Early founders of the Peace Corps so wanted to change this approach by going only where invited to do what was requested. The earlier approach angered some locals who felt taken advantage of, compromised, and put down, but  at the same time Volunteers were to stay safe and healthy in an environment of disease, insects, unpredictable customs the violation of which could be deadly, wild rivers with crocodiles and so much more.

The story is spellbinding as pain, illness, weather, emotions, myths or reality, loneliness, friendship, understanding, and kindness collide and spin the characters through the tale. A remarkable description of the complexities of life far from home for one and right at home for the other.

Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962-64) also dropped into a culture thousands of years old with her 21-year-old mind and sheltered life experience.  She often questioned whether or not it was helpful to expose eager youthful minds to what existed outside their country.  She came to love her brief two-year service in Ethiopia and the impact it, its people, culture, and beauty has had and continues to have on her. 


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