Tuesday, September 13, 2011

DEATH OF THE MANTIS by Michael Stanley

Michael Stanley’s Death of the Mantis starts slowly but ends powerfully.

Caught up by a massive change in Botswana’s culture, “Kubu,” Detective David Bengu, makes a terrible mistake. He takes on an investigation not his own. He allows a Bushman friend to enmesh him in the historic racial prejudices against the Bushmen and the hatreds those racial prejudices leave behind.

Kubu's decisions cause friends to suffer and die. He puts everyone at risk.

It all starts with a murder in the bush. The policeman in charge believes the Bushmen found around the body committed the murder. Bushmen, by culture, are peaceful. For them to kill someone would be unlikely. Kubu lets a Bushman friend enmesh him in the case.

The investigation is more complex than it seems. The book’s title Death of the Mantis refers to the Bushman creation story. The Mantis created the earth and its first people, the Bushmen. 

By nature peaceful, taking only what it needs, the Mantis has taught the Bushmen to melt into the bush rather than fight. They see all creation working out in such a way that even when they kill an animal to eat, they thank the spirit of the animal. They never take more game or water than they need, leaving the remainder for the next person who wanders by.

The Bushmen welcome strangers and give wayfarers enough to help them on their way. Bushmen have no understanding of the concept of private property. They believe the whole earth is to share without greed.

But their culture is dying. Many Bushmen now live in towns and cities. They no longer remember how to thank the animals, track men and game from the least of signs, and endure the blazing desert sun. The few desert Bushmen who remain struggle to survive.

Into this there comes a murderer. The murderer ends up hastening the death of the Mantis. His psychotic vision makes him a serial killer whose hatred threatens everyone including Kubu and his family.

This is a powerful book. Many have already said that. But it is also a book which encompasses the pain that happens when a way of life is dying. The death of native culture brings grief beyond explaining.

As I read the early pages, I thought Death of the Mantis was going to be an ordinary book, the most “usual” of the Kubu offerings, but farther in, I learned I was wrong. The book will surely become a classic of its sort. I recommend it highly.

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