Hardy Plumbing
December 21, 2011

Local Author Fashions A Spellbinding Novel

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Readers who enjoy hunkering down with a good book during the holiday season should grab a copy of Prayers Of An Igbo Rabbi, by Sag Harbor's Richard Cummings, an eerie thriller that is impossible to put down.

Cummings, a scholarly type to be sure, learned a valuable lesson at Princeton, Columbia Law School and the other institutions of higher learning he studied at – how to lure in the reader and tighten the noose.

His novel is accessible yet multi-layered and it is based on a true story – and a haunting legend many swear is the ghostly truth.

The protagonist is a Hamptons-based writer, ever so slightly bored by the endless stream of social gatherings and blustery hosts. "His wife gets a gratuitous e-mail about real estate on St. Simons Island," Cummings related, and visits the island on the coast of Georgia to look it over. The ploy mirrors the author's real experience. "I was teaching at a law school in Atlanta, and some people told me it was a really nice place." Soon after, "I met a guy teaching at the local community college and asked me if I had heard about it."

"It" – is at the core of the legend of Igbo landing and the heart of Cumming's book. As a slave ship from West Africa carrying captured citizens from the Igbo nation approached Savannah in 1803, there was an uprising on board. "The uprising was put down," Cummings related. "They were put on a smaller boat in chains." Rather than live a life of servitude the proud Igbo (sometimes spelled Ibo) marched into the deep end of a marshy creek and died. That much is factual, the author noted. But it was not the end of the story.

Craig Dominey, in The Moonlight Road, gives perhaps the best account of the legend and myth surrounding that singular event.

"Near the mouth of Dunbar Creek on Georgia's St. Simons Island, there's a section of swampy marshland where some fishermen refuse to cast their lines. In the daytime, it doesn't look any different from the other vast marshes stretching across Georgia's coastal islands.

But when night falls, it is said that one can hear a different sound entirely. Swamps are known to make strange sounds at night. But if you listen closely, you may hear what sounds like the faint rattling of chains drifting across the marsh, followed by an eerie chant: 'The water brought us the water will take us away.'

If you think your ears are deceiving you, think again. For the old timers in the area will tell you that what you're hearing is the brave warrior Oba, leading his people on their final march home."

Cummings visited the island twice to get the feel for the setting. "I had my first introduction over 10 years ago. I went down and did some research and the story began to develop."

The book functions on several levels. Thomas Spalding, who had purchased the shipment of slaves, was an extremely prominent Georgian. The Igbo, who lived where Nigeria is located, "were renowned throughout the American South for being fiercely independent and unwilling to tolerate the humiliations of slavery," according to one scholar.

At its core, often between the lines, the book explores how American history obscured the roots of the American slavery movement, specifically the mysticism that was so much a part of the slave culture. That is for the reader to discover, though, whilst in the midst of a page-turning thriller – a murder investigation that draws in the main charactor, an unsuspecting writer from the Hamptons. Suffice it to say there is a very fine line between myth and reality.

Cummings is not a writer to be trifled with – he chooses his battles carefully. The Pied Piper: Allard K. Lowenstein and the Liberal Dream, published in 1986, caused an international stir when he revealed Lowenstein – a onetime Congressman from Nassau County who became a darling of the sixties peace movement – was a CIA informant. But that's another story, for another fire on another winter's night.

Prayers Of An Igbo Rabbi is available at bookstores and of course, on Amazon. It'll make one hell of a gift – just be careful not to bend the pages while you read it first.


  1. print email
    Great read
    January 07, 2012 | 09:47 AM

    I am off to buy this book this minute. Cummings has chosen a terrific, tempting subject as usual.

    Laura Race
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