(Cover picture courtesy of The Flying Librarian’s Hideout.)
First Month of Mbangala:
The Season When the Grass is Burned
So here I am in the garden, writing…if these words have magic, then I will use them to plot and plan a way to drive the Portugese from our land. And maybe one day my pages will tell others that I, Nzingha, First Daughter of Kiluanji, was a Mbundu, one of a powerful people who are free and unafraid to fight for our beloved homeland of Ndongo in the Kwanza River Valley.
Later the Same Evening
My sisters found me. Kifunji cannot resist teasing. She gives a big laugh. “Writing is good for you, sister. To see you sitting quietly is such a rare pleasure. Isn’t it better than hurling a spear, or wrestling some boy to the ground?”…I am accused of being independent. It is true, I suppose, for I would rather be kept in an open basket than a lukata—a box.
Now here is a woman who absolutely deserves a book in The Royal Diaries! And the sad part? I had no idea she even existed until I read it a few weeks ago.
By all accounts, Nzingha was a very strong leader in her later life and we see hints of that in her ‘diary’ as a girl of thirteen. She’s also not perfect, something everyone can relate to, making a false accusation in front of the whole court, which turns out to be baseless. Unlike a lot of the princesses in The Royal Diaries, Nzingha grows wiser as she grows older and we see believable flashes of the woman she would become. Her mistrust of the Portugese, but also her prowess as a warrior make her an enjoyable, believable character.
The plot is fairly fast-paced, but I was dismayed that Patricia McKissack changed some history to make things more dramatic. When Nzingha went to meet with the Portugese, she sat on one of her warriors so as to be equal with the leader at age 13. However, in the Historical Note we learn that this did not happen until way later in her life. Sometimes history doesn’t need to be changed to be more exciting and this is one of the cases. There’s nothing wrong with telling it as it really was! I think part of it was that McKissack had to add not just more exciting events, but more events period because it is a very short book.
I give this book 4/5 stars.
*Only available used.