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INSECTUAL: The Secret of the Black Butterfly by Barbara Sala

INSECTUAL: The Secret of the Black Butterfly

by Barbara Sala

252 pages
Thrice betrayed: childhood, marriage, psychotherapy; punctuated with adventure in Congo.

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About the Book
“That’s where they burn red-haired girls as witches,” Maya’s mother said as they stood staring at the heavy metal door of an ominous bunker on their way to kindergarten.

This streak of madness starts Maya’s odyssey – from war and betrayal in Germany of the late 1940s to adventure in Africa in the 1960s.

Maya’s trauma remains buried with her childhood in the Bavarian Alps, the family hideaway where they fled to get away from the bombing raids. She goes on a U.N. mission to the former tormented Belgian Congo, where she weds her glamorous Italian co-worker and gives birth to two children in the midst of the dangers of the Mulele revolution.

This fast-moving saga rolls across three continents, from war-torn Europe to Africa and then to North America. In Montreal in the 1980s, she undergoes psychotherapy to uncover the sting of angst embedded in her psyche.

From hypnosis arises the image of the black butterfly, symbol of her father. In the psychiatrist’s office, the doctor’s suggestion of friendly touching “dislodges the pebble that sets in motion an avalanche” – Maya’s anatomy of a secret seduction.
This unusual picture book for adults uses the literary device of quotes pulled from the text to create a parallel universe of 80 drawings – each one an epiphany – that illustrate the gift of humour found in the transformative power of art and spirituality.


In 2015, INSECTUAL - The Secret of the Black Butterfly is published, with 75 drawings by the author. Extremely well written, this passionate journey through the narrow tunnel of blocked memory oscillates between the spiritual quest and a psychological thriller. Her heroine Maya’s life is anything but trivial. From Nazi Germany to the civil war in the ex-Belgian Congo, where she worked for the United Nations in the ’60s, until her arrival in Montreal in 1974, she lived a perpetual adventure, and married a handsome Italian with whom she had a boy and a girl. As I would do for a thriller, I will not reveal here the details of her difficult journey through her past, since she was careful to keep the suspense until the end.
- Elaine Audet, writer, poet, critic, co-publisher of
To say this book is totally unlike anything I’ve ever read before would be an understatement. I’m not sure how to even describe this book as SO much happens, and it seems to touch on so many elements, themes, and subjects, times and places. It is told in a stream-of consciousness manner mostly recounting past events (but told in present tense…). Gets pretty dark and twisted, and definitely for a mature audience only. But overall a very interesting, different type of book that is memorable, moving, and very well-written. (4-5 stars).
- Layla Messing, Indie Book Reviewers
“Insectual: The Secret of the Black Butterfly” by Barbara Sala starts off with some considerable backstory to set up the scene and ground the reader in the Maya’s sexy world and perspective, which the author Barbara Sala does a wonderfully convincing job of creating as believable background for the plot to unfold. This book does touch on some pretty heavy subject matters and there should be trigger warnings for the abuse. A powerful, mind bending read that kept me captivated. And the editing was flawless (I notice these things). Adults only. (5 stars)
- Laura Clarke, Indie Book Reviewers
Well this book took me a while to read, but in the end I’d say it was worth it! I like how everything came together, and I enjoyed reading this unusual book! I think Barbara Sala writes VERY well… very descriptive and strong and we feel like we are there almost like watching a David Lynch movie or something. Overall an interesting, if not surreal novel that pushes the boundaries of typical literature. Warning – recommended for mature readers as has sensitive subject matter. (5 stars).
- Sherri Indie Book reviewers
“Insectual- The Secret of the Black Butterfly” is the first book I’ve read from this talented author Barbara Sala, but I hope it’s not the last! The way this book was written is different from many I’ve read before, but it totally hooked me right from the beginning and kept my attention throughout. It was intelligent, weird, sad, dark, funny, deep, tragic… I thought the storyline and the character development to be very well done and thought out. I feel like this level of complexity could have easily ended up badly, but instead I darn near gobbled the whole book down in just a few evenings. There were some pretty shocking events that may upset some readers but I thought the author handled the sensitive subject matter well. This book will haunt me for a long time, but in a good way. Recommend for adults only. (4 stars)
- Karen « Reader girl » Indie Book Reviewers
This was one engaging tale that I couldn’t put down! I did have to have some patience in the beginning until I felt that I was more caught up in the thrust of the story, but the author does a great job of explaining all the backstory and sub plots. I enjoyed the easy flow and inventive ideas and plot of “Insectual”, and really liked the characters! Happy that they were not cliché, cardboard cutouts but relatable and real. I liked that I never quite knew where the story was going, and it was anything but predictable… my eyebrows shot up and my jaw dropped many times. It gets pretty intense, and I wasn’t prepared for where the book went, but I feel like it is an important story that needs to be told. The author has a great way of writing, even if it took me awhile to get into the flow. Oh, and I loved the drawings at the beginning of each chapter! ( 4 stars).
- Essieharmon, Indie Book Reviewers
From the very beginning the story moved seamlessly from one page to the next, and was unpredictable enough to make me just *have* to see what would happen next. Not formulaic or cookie-cutter at all, even though there are plenty of “familiar elements” necessary for a psychological thriller, this one is very different from others, probably because of the historical element. I was impressed with this author’s writing style and her attention to detail… I really felt transported to another time and place. The narrative is literary, almost poetic at times, even when discussing ugly events. Lots of metaphors, symbolism, and double-meanings, which I thought was really cool. Recommended for ages 18+ and I will look for more works from her in the future. (5 stars)
- Elisabeth Brown, Indie Book Reviewers
The title and cover art of INSECTUAL (The Secret of the Black Butterfly) by Barbara Sala intrigued me. It details the life of Maya – a German woman who describes intimacy and sex as ‘the devil’ – yet has no problems falling in love. After an unwanted pregnancy and abortion, Maya meets and marries Lorenzo, an Italian man who finds Maya enchanting. Due to complications with the birth of her second child with Lorenzo, Maya and the baby are rushed to the hospital. After the birth, she is secreted away just moments before her city comes under fire. When Maya and Lorenzo are finally reunited, Lorenzo confesses his infidelities in a drunken stupor.

Therapy is recommended to Maya in the hopes that it will fix her loathing of sexual acts. Shortly after her therapy sessions commence, Maya realizes that she does not want to stay married to an unfaithful husband. After divorcing Lorenzo, Maya spends many years in therapy, discovering her real inner demons lie with her father who had molested and raped her as a child – traumatic memories which Maya had buried over the years. Most of Barbara Sala’s book INSECTUAL (The Secret of the Black Butterfly) consists of Maya’s therapy sessions, her thoughts, her fears, her dreams and what she chooses to tell her therapist. It is very well written throughout and the illustrations at the beginning of each segment of the book are quite clever, painting a very clear picture of what Maya is book are quite clever, painting a very clear picture of what Maya is thinking. While the book was very difficult to read in some places due to the content, I am grateful to have read it, as it teaches one of the most incredible lessons a person can learn in life: forgiveness.
- Rosie Malezer,
This book tells the story of Maya’s two lives – the first as a child and young woman in Central Europe and then the former Belgian Congo, the second as a woman in mid-life in North America who relives her life in psychotherapy. There she seeks to rid herself of the Black Butterfly, a disturbing insect-like presence that still haunts her dreams and her waking moments, even as a mature woman. Guided by her therapist, the meaning of her past and perhaps of her rage becomes clear although freedom, love and true security are harder to find. Maya was born in Nazi Germany two years before the outbreak of the Second World War. In the last year of the war her family moved to a remote chalet in Bavaria where she witnessed the arrival of the Allied troops. They were welcomed by her father – the emotional scars of family conflict and betrayal remained. Later she worked for the United Nations in the Congo, married, gave birth to two children, and was forced to flee as the war within that country escalated. She moved to the United States with her husband and children, spent some years in the Caribbean and settled finally in Montreal, Canada. This then is the story of several journeys across countries and continents as well as the story of a woman’s journey back to the experiences which oppressed her and stood in the way of her happiness. It is also a story of renewal. Maya attributes her healing not only to psychotherapy but to spiritualism, her openness to the influence of African gods, and the power of Art. Each chapter recounts a brief episode in Maya’s life, either from her early or later years. Each is illustrated with a drawing portraying actual or remembered psychic experiences. The writing describes the events, the drawings show the power of emotion unleashed in the telling. The writing is matter of fact, direct and at times starkly honest. I did not anticipate the ending. Names and details of specific incidents have been changed to protect the identity of others involved - because as the writer reminds us, “This is a story about events that happen to ordinary people.” In life Barbara Sala is a naïve artist who has exhibited internationally. She has published three illustrated children’s books and is now in her mid-70’s.
- Catherine Watson, sociologist and writer, and member of the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning in Montreal



About the Author
Born in Germany, Barbara Sala is a septuagenarian painter known internationally for her colourful, symbolic and naïve paintings. She has won several awards. When younger she lived on four continents. Today her home is in Montreal. She wrote two children’s books: Celestine and the Magical Geranium and Village of the Heart.



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