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Book Report: Bubbling alcohol picks the king

Submitted photo.

As the TV announcer used to say, "How would you like to be queen for a day? Or even longer, or maybe even king?"

That's the spot Peggielene Bartels found herself in 2008. Now she and co-author Eleanore Herman have recorded the experience in "King Peggy" (Doubleday, $25.95).

Bartels was born in Ghana, went to catering school in London, and ended up as a secretary in the Ghanian Embassy in Washington D.C.

Her life was further complicated when she and her husband divorced in 2002 and he returned to Africa. To pay the bills, she had to take a second job as a nursing home receptionist.

As the book opens she's pooped out. All she wants to do is sleep so she won't have to worry about paying the bills or wondering if she was a complete failure.

And then in 2008 she got a phone call from her cousin, telling her that her Uncle Joseph had died and the sacred rituals that followed had revealed that Bartels' ancestors had chosen her as the king of Otuam, a coastal village in Ghana.

What kind of a cruel joke was this?

No joke.

Peggielene was a king, the new leader of her hometown, a place not known as a leader in the feminist movement. She was one of 25 descendants of Uncle Joseph, the previous king.

As each name was read at the funeral, a shot of schnapps was poured on sand. If the schnapps sunk, not the sand, that meant the person's name was eliminated.

When Peggielene's name was read, the schnapps boiled up out of the sand and so now she was the king of a backward village of 7,000 souls.

But being a king isn't all pomp and circumstance.

When she arrived in Otuam, one of only three lady town kings in all of Ghana, she found a mess.

Husbands were beating their wives, there was no high school, no running water, no doctor and no money.

Moreover the male bosses, who were used to running the show and stealing from the village coffers, resented the appearance of a lady king. A humorist might suggest Otuam was a lot like Washington.

But Peggielene also found friends, in her cousin and a local contractor, who rebuilt the palace.

She organized the Otuam Community Development Corporation, set up a bank account, the village's first, bought an ambulance, took steps to empower women.

And unlike most kings, she's back in Washington, where she still drives her '92 Honda.

Peggielene Bartels reminded me of a fictional character created by the Scots novelist Alexander McCall Smith. Precious Ramotswe runs a detective agency in Botswana and has a similar profile.

She's big, very big. She drives a funny car. She's smart. And she gets things done.

And guess what? On the dust jacket this is what it says:

"This is an astonishing and wonderful book about a real-life Mma Ramotswe. It is an utter joy." -- Alexander McCall Smith

When the conversation turns to professional sports everyone begins to complain.

The multi-million dollar salaries, the drugs, the lack of loyalty to team with players changing every time dollar signs beckon. And of course it's infecting our national pastime, baseball.

Apparently Darby Creek Press of Minneapolis has decided to do something about at its grass roots. Its Travel Team Collection is a series of six adolescent novels about a teenage traveling baseball team, the Roadrunners.

Each novel actually talks about the sport and its finer points and has its moments of excitement, but each book contains matters of ethics and honesty.

For instance, in "Forced Out," by Gene Fehler (Darby Creek, $7.95 paper) one of the team members discovers that a new kid has made the team because his father has paid off the management.

Other titles include "The Catch," "High Heat," "Out of Control," "Power Hitter" and "The Prospect."