Hoagland writes affectionately of the polyglot Sudanese, soberly of their ""demoralizing poverty,"" sympathetically of their...


AFRICAN CALLIOPE: A Journey to the Sudan

Hoagland writes affectionately of the polyglot Sudanese, soberly of their ""demoralizing poverty,"" sympathetically of their optimism--and ruefully of himself and other pilgrims and adventurers. The involving result will not perhaps surprise those familiar with Notes from the Century Before, his fix on backwoods British Columbia; but Africa--""drastic Africa""--is more demanding. Without framing questions, he finds answers. Hoagland, as his readers know, stutters--an impediment that his black Nilotic tribesmen hosts, in the South Sudan, respond to protectively or pass over--they know worse afflictions--while the desert Arabs, in the North, are curious, even contemptuous: what has Allah willed? The cultural divide is a recurrent theme: for 17 years (1956-72), Africa's largest country was immobilized by civil war; in the compromise settlement, the blacks--Christians and animists--gained religious freedom, the continued use of English, some administrative autonomy; but tension persists between Arab absolutism and black mistrust, between the slave-holder and the slave. Perhaps the present ""benevolent dictatorship"" offers the best hope of unification; perhaps the internationalization of Khartoum, the capital--as the Sudan is groomed to be the breadbasket of the Arab world--will foster tolerance; but perhaps tribalism has its place in preserving altruism and community-mindedness. All this emerges in the course of Hoagland's encounters with black government ministers, betwixt and between; English engineers and businessmen, stifled at home; ""heroic"" Arab drivers and courtly sheiks; a mellow Georgia peanut expert, a caustic Hungarian vet, Khartoum's first bar mitzvah boy in five years. The book is extravagantly peopled, but it is also a standout among the annals of economic development: the Dinkas compose songs to their cattle, part of their lineage--but the annual ""off-take"" is a meager five percent; a development project presumes permanent settlement--""I didn't ask him what compulsory life tenure on twenty-two acres was going to do to a nomad."" Most travelers react to Africa's excesses in sorrow or anger; Hoagland bobbles along, taking notes, (which, he'll tell you, people are always trying to read). Hoagland engorging Africa, or Africa engorging Hoagland, this is a book of affirmation and insights.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 1979


Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1979