Reviews for King Peggy : An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village


Booklist Reviews 2012 January #1
Bartels was a native of Ghana living in the U.S., working as secretary to the Ghanaian embassy, when a relative called to give her startling news. Following the death of her uncle, a village king, the council of elders had determined that she would be his successor. Bartels, who'd come to the U.S. to study and had become a U.S. citizen, hadn't been home since the death of her mother. But she accepted the daunting prospect with determination and brio. She would rule part-time, traveling between Washington, D.C., and Ghana. Bartels, along with coauthor Herman, chronicles her journey from secretary to king of the poor and isolated village of Otuam, 60 miles from the capital of Accra. She becomes reacquainted with distant relatives and her estranged husband as she juggles responsibilities such as refurbishing the modest palace, repaving roads, and burying her uncle before the ancestors can be offended--all on fees collected from fishermen and a secretary's salary. Balancing cultural differences and sketchy finances, Bartels finds within herself the strength to tackle poverty, tradition, and personal transformation. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2012 March
Her majesty the king

Ever since the Rosie the Riveters of WWII blew the lid off of what was considered “women’s work” and moved with skill and determination into “men’s jobs,” women have been making strides into traditionally male-dominated positions. Today, no one raises an eyebrow at seeing a female doctor, police officer or CEO. But a female king? Yet that is exactly what Peggielene Bartels, for more than 30 years a secretary at the Embassy of Ghana in Washington, D.C., is asked to become by the elders of Otuam, a small Ghanaian village. Though it sounds the stuff of fairytale and legend, King Peggy is the fascinating true story of her courageous acceptance of this difficult role and her unyielding resolve to help the people of Otuam.

An American citizen since 1997, Bartels did have ties to Ghana beyond her work at the Embassy. She was born and raised in Cape Coast and still had relatives there, and her uncle had been king of Otuam until his death at age 90 in 2008. Still, going back for centuries, all the kings had been men, and the idea had never crossed her mind to aspire to become one. So it was quite a shock when an elder called to tell her she had been one of the final 25 candidates chosen (and the only female), and that when they poured the libations, it was her name which had “steamed up” from the schnapps. The ancestors had chosen her; would she accept?

Written with Eleanor Herman, King Peggy reveals how Bartels made her difficult decision and how it not only changed her life, but those of the 7,000 people she came to rule. Faced with daunting obstacles—lack of running water, a crumbling palace and a late king “in the refrigerator” until he can be properly buried (a problem compounded by Ghana’s dicey electricity)—Bartels rises to each calamity with tenacity and dignity. She vows to rule “wisely, with compassion and justice, and to spare no effort in helping Otuam” as she struggles to upgrade the community’s education, healthcare and infrastructure, despite the entrenched corruption she encounters. Full of pathos, humor and insight into a world where poverty mingles with hope and happiness, King Peggy is an inspiration and proof positive that when it comes to challenging roles for women, “We Can Do It!”

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2012 February #2
Bartels was working as a secretary in the Ghanaian Embassy when she received a phone call that would change her life. The king of Otuam, a small coastal town of 7,000 people, had passed away, and the tribal elders had elected her as his replacement. Thus begins this winning tale of epic proportions, full of intrigue, royal court plotting, cases of mistaken identity and whispered words from beyond the grave. Upon arrival, King Peggy--who left Ghana three decades earlier and has since become an American citizen--found an uphill battle and vowed to tackle the issues plaguing her community: domestic violence, poverty and lack of access to clean water, health care and education. In doing so, Bartels faced issues of gender discrimination, corruption and inexperience. And of course there was the minor matter of her day job, inconveniently located an ocean away. Surrounded by a Greek chorus of aunties and cousins, Bartels worked to stamp out corruption and improve the lives of townspeople who warily regard her as an interloper. She invested $30,000 of her own money into renovating the ramshackle palace she inherited and recruited donors to build schools and libraries outfitted with computers. Bartels and Herman (Mistress of the Vatican: The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini: The Secret Female Pope, 2008, etc.) team up to craft a fast-paced potboiler. Florid description of the landscape, culture and characters work together to fully evoke the rhythms of African life. Ultimately, readers come away with not only a sense of how King Peggy was able to transform Otuam, but also an understanding of how the town and its inhabitants transformed her. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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