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Vuto is banished from her Malawian village at 17. Her husband finds her with a volunteer, who kills him to protect Vuto. The women run.

THANK YOU! ZIKOMO KWAMBIRI!

On May 8, 2013, with 16 hours left in this campaign, nearly 200 backers cared enough about this project to take it past the stretch goal of $5,000. I am so grateful and truly humbled by the love and generosity this novel has received over the past 30 days. I cannot wait to get to work on finalizing the publication of Vuto and getting all of the rewards out to my incredible backers!

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

Synopsis

Vuto is only 17 when her third child dies, mere days after birth. 

Malawian tradition prevents men from considering a child their own until it has survived for two weeks. Frustrated at not being able to speak to her husband, Solomon, about all three of the children she’s had to bury alone, Vuto forces him to acknowledge the dead baby. Her rejection of tradition causes Solomon and the village elders to banish Vuto from the only home she’s ever known. She seeks refuge in the hut of U.S. Peace Corps volunteer Samantha Brennan, where Solomon discovers his wife has not left as she was told. 

When Solomon arrives in the night to attack Vuto, Samantha disregards her oath to remain uninvolved in village politics and interjects herself into the center of the conflict, defending Vuto and killing Solomon in the process. 

The women go on the run from Vuto’s village and the Peace Corps, encountering physical, ethical and cultural struggles along the way.

This novel is told from the perspectives of Vuto, Samantha and two other Peace Corps volunteers. While Vuto's story is the backdrop for the plot, A.J. Walkley has written a book that gets at the heart of the U.S. Peace Corps and the idealism behind the volunteers that often go into Third World countries completely unprepared.

Testimonials  

Beta readers have had nothing but positive feedback on the novel as a whole thus far:

"As an avid reader of the science fiction/fantasy genre, I was truly captivated by Vuto. It was extremely well written! I found myself unable to put it down and consistently turning the page as Vuto and her new friend made it further and further along in their treacherous adventure through Malawi. It was fantastic as an eye opener to how other cultures view females and their role in their societies. I would highly recommend this book, not only for adults, but for high school students learning about these countries, as it is a fantastically well written fiction story based on some extremely accurate research. Bravo, Walkley! Bravo!" 

- Jennifer Sipes, USA

"I loved the story! It was beautifully written and seemed very real... I definitely became caught up in the story." 

- Amy Fraher, author, Small Hangers

Background

Vuto is my third book and the premise was inspired by my experience as a health volunteer in the Peace Corps, stationed in Malawi, Africa. As a member of the Peace Corps, I was exposed to many cultural traditions I had never even heard of before, like the prospect of puberty rites and wife inheritance (when a husband dies and leaves behind his wife, she is usually "inherited" by his brother or another male family member).

A.J. Walkley with her homestay family in Malawi.
A.J. Walkley with her homestay family in Malawi.

One of the most astounding traditions I encountered from my American perspective, however, was the "two-week rule" of birth -- when a child is born in the village, it must survive for two weeks before its father will acknowledge its existence. If the child dies before the two week point is reached, the mother and women of the village bury the child and the father will never know he had a child at all. This tradition is a jumping off point for my book, Vuto.

Vuto has already been accepted for publication by the publisher Rocket Science Productions and just needs funding for printing to commence!

Excerpt

I knew the pains in my belly and what they meant. I had already done this two times before. That did not make it easier.

“Mama! I want my mama!” I cried, knowing that she was not there, knowing that she would not come and knowing that I should not be calling for her.

I whipped my head back and forth as another pain ripped through, staring for a moment at the white girl in the corner, looking at me as if I was some mzimu, some angel.

“Aaaaaagh!” I screamed and she flinched, but stayed just the same.

A familiar face was better than none.

I could hear her whispering in broken Chichewa, “What does she say?” to the nurse, Leoni, who was helping me along.

“She is calling for her mother,” Leoni told her.

“Then we should go get her mom,” the girl replied. I would have laughed if I was not being torn apart from the inside out.

“She cannot. She must do this alone.”

I pushed hard, the chitenje I had wrapped around me coming unfurled and falling to the ground. I laid, naked, for the world to see.

I felt the head between my legs and knew it was only moments before I would meet my baby.

“One more push, Vuto, just one more big push,” Leoni told me.

“Grrrrraaaghhh!”

I felt the pressure ease and heard a tiny wail.

No more words were spoken, Leoni taking my baby, cutting her cord with rusty scissors and wrapping her up tight in two chitenjes. After passing the placenta, I got up myself, the soreness something for me to overcome and not linger upon. I cleaned myself and took my baby, not even five minutes in the world, looking over at the girl in the corner before leaving.

She had tears in her eyes and I could not understand why.

This was every day.

This was life.

This was Malawi.

Photos from Malawi

Here are some photos of Malawi from my time in the Peace Corps:

A road into town from a rural Malawian village.
A road into town from a rural Malawian village.
A mountain in the center of Malawi near the capitol, Lilongwe.
A mountain in the center of Malawi near the capitol, Lilongwe.
Moonrise over the Peace Corps training facilities.
Moonrise over the Peace Corps training facilities.
The author's homestay brother and sister playing on the side of her hut.
The author's homestay brother and sister playing on the side of her hut.
The author with her extended homestay family.
The author with her extended homestay family.

Why Kickstarter

This is my very first Kickstarter project. I love the idea of creative collaboration -- and can you really get any more collaborative than Kickstarter? I want my readers to be a part of the entire writing and publishing process. Being that I wrote the first draft of Vuto during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November 2011, working with thousands of writers the world-over to create a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, I think the collaborative nature of this project deserves to continue with the publication process.

Publishing costs are high, unfortunately, and I cannot afford to publish this novel on my own. I am hoping others will see the value in my third novel and will want to see it printed just as much as I do. 

I know the more readers who take a chance on Vuto, the more success it will ultimately have. 

Like I say in the above video, feel free to ask any questions of me and this book. No question is off limits! I thank you for taking the time to look into my project and hope you see enough value to donate.

I cannot thank you enough! In the words of Malawi's national tongue, Chichewa, zikomo kwambiri!

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Fortunately, I already have a fantastic publishing company backing me on this venture -- Rocket Science Productions. They love the book, a contract has already been signed and publication will commence as soon as the funds become available.

FAQ

  • This story sprang to my mind during National Novel Writing Month 2011. While my time in Malawi with the Peace Corps inspired the story, it is my own fictional tale with fictional characters. If I don’t tell this story, nobody else will. About 1/3 of the novel is told through Vuto’s perspective and 2/3 through the eyes of several Peace Corps volunteers. I believe it’s a compelling tale that will definitely capture readers’ attentions.

    I didn’t take into account my own race or nationality when I wrote it. I know there are some potential readers who might not want to read a book based in an African country if the writer is not from that country – that’s their prerogative. I do not believe a writer is closed off from writing about topics that do not directly relate to them, nor do I believe we shouldn’t write about people, genders, sexualities, etc. that we do not personally ascribe to. If that were the case, it would make for some very dry reading!

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  • No. In fact, that first chapter was based on a very real experience I had as a volunteer in Malawi. I spoke to the Malawian nurse I was with while witnessing a villager giving birth and everything that occurs in that scene is nearly what occurred from my vantage point to a T. Vuto’s perspective in the chapter was taken from my conversations with the Malawian nurse and her own experience as a midwife relating what many mothers say before, during and after giving birth – especially when there is a Peace Corps volunteer present.

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  • Not at all! While the white American Peace Corps volunteer, Samantha, does initially save Vuto when Vuto's husband comes to attack her, that is all the saving she does and the rest of the novel is anything but such a trope. In fact, one of the messages this book aims to get across is the fact that most volunteers are unprepared when they enter a country they intend to serve and help. Samantha's idealism and naivete play a major role in depicting the fact that Peace Corps volunteers are no saviors at all.

    One backer commented: "Your Kickstarter project looks awesome...I'm also really glad that VUTO seems to take an alternate, more nuanced route than most novels on international development and goes outside of the commonplace white savior narrative to explore how idealism conflated with cultural bias can actually be a crutch in these types of situations." - Anita Little

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