a novel by Deborah Rice
The Legs in the Crocodile
Hannah Apple is enjoying herself hugely at the celebration in the village whose headman she has known since she was raised at the one-time American Protestant mission nearby. Right up until the hunters who have killed the crocodile which has been terrorizing the village slit open its stomach–and two human legs tumble out.
The croc’s latest victim, it turns out, is the son of Matthew Lual, the Nuer leader of the crocodile-hunting cooperative, a friend of Hannah and the son in turn of a great hunting buddy of her father, the legendary founder of the mission where she was raised.
The Troubling Remains
Several things about this death trouble Hannah long after the remains of the young boy are laid to rest. She works with Matthew, his wife, and the Anuak village headman Omot, whose own young son met his death the same way a year ago, to figure out if something hinkey is going on. She consults, increasingly, too, with Wyatt, an American self-made promoter of micro-financing for subsistence farmers–although she blushes to think she may be doing that for ulterior motives.
The local, and later the national, authorities do not want a murmur about crocodiles and the death of a Nuer boy at an Anuak village made public because that could stir up unrest over ongoing violent eviction of Anuak villagers from land on which they have tilled crops and grazed cattle–in the green pastures of the Baro River near Gambella–for generations, but to which they hold no legal title. Besides, crocodiles eating people was never good for the tourist trade.
Never the Same Again
As if this were not enough for Hannah to deal with, her golden-haired granddaughter arrives from America–to work, so she asserts, on a newborn-health project. Oh, and incidentally, to persuade her aging grandmother to come “home” to Iowa to spend her declining years in peace and good health.
Before things are all sorted out and Hannah arrives at the heartbreaking truth, her wits are tested, her life endangered, and her faith in her fellow humans tried. Her life in this town she loves may never be the same again.