A thirtyish American goes to Africa to find redemption but comes across instead as a self-centered and culturally insensitive mischief-maker. Newcomer Coleman, an American who attended the University of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, vividly evokes the East African countryside, and his descriptions of village life and local politics are deft and to the point. But the heart of his story—a Memphis attorney's attempts to salvage a misspent life by serving in the Peace Corps—is fundamentally flawed. Rutledge Jordan had cheated so often on Anna, his longtime love, that she finally left him for good. Now, heartbroken and disenchanted with his law practice, Rutledge is in Africa trying to save himself while teaching the local tribespeople how to build fish farms and while also observing the habitat of endangered eagles. To help preserve the species, he removes an eaglet from its nest and brings it home to rear and later release into the wild. A 16-year-old local girl, Zanifa, bright as well as beautiful, assists him in feeding and training the bird. Rutledge is attracted to her, of course, and when he learns she's to be married to Kimweri—a local Oxford-educated potentate who insists that she first undergo female circumcision—Rutledge initiates her sexually. Given the place, his age, and her impoverished circumstances, however, the suggestion of opportunism rather than heroism is unavoidable for the reader. Obsessed, Rutledge abducts Zanifa from Kimweri's domain just before the marriage is to take place; then he flees with her (after his eagle brutally wounds Kimweri) to Kenya, where he enrolls her in a school paid for with money he's earned smuggling dope and gems. Kimweri is powerful and will exact a brutal revenge—but it doesn't matter: According to his lights but unfortunately not the reader's, Rutledge has become a changed (and better) version of himself. An unintentionally distasteful tale of an ugly American.
Read full book review >