The Boy Who Stole the Leopard’s Spots, by Tamar Myers, is the story of twin sons of a native chief whose lives take divergent paths but are eventually reunited in the Belgian Congo. The children’s births are documented, along with their participation in a cannibalism ritual and their separation when one of them is abducted, in short chapters from events in 1935. These shorter chapters are interspersed with longer chapters from 1958, which is the year in which the main story of the book is told.
In the Belgian Congo in 1958, lives of the native tribes, the Belgian citizens, and other white immigrants are separate although dependent on each other. Conflict arises between tribes and between religions—Protestants and Catholics—and between natives and their government, the white Belgians or other immigrants. Mayers, who spent the first 16 years of her life in the Belgian Congo, draws on her experiences there to weave into the story expressions, language, beliefs, and perceptions which gives The Boy authenticity.
Myers’ characters are memorable although often damaged, impacted by their position in society. Amanda is a Protestant missionary who serves as the host for the missionary house there. A drunk driving incident drew her to service and a reformed life, although she struggles under the influence of Madame Cabochon, who is herself impacted by drunkenness—that of her often errant husband. In addition to the Chief’s twins, Lazarus Chigger Mite and Joseph Pimple, Cripple is a native Baluba and is also a key character in the book. Named "Cripple" because of her shape and stature, she is respected as a wise woman by all, and her counsel helps maintain the tenuous balance between populations.
The Boy Who Stole the Leopard’s Spots is a multilayered novel about oppression and acceptance. The oppression comes from many directions—whether it is government, religion, or place in society. In some cases, the oppression is a painful memory which cannot be erased. The successful ones are those who are able to accept, adapt, and learn. The Boy Who Stole the Leopard’s Spots was published by William Morrow in 2012.