by Richard Wiley ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 8, 1992
Wiley (Soldiers in Hiding, 1985, etc.) continues to range far afield for his material; here, his subject is the reeducation of an American in Nigeria. Forthright, hard-working and incorruptible, 57-year-old Jerry Neal is the very model of a modern school principal, and his International School is an enclave of calm in the turbulence of Lagos. But Jerry has tunnel vision: the Nigeria beyond his campus is a blur, and his prized collection of Nigerian artwork is mere decor. Wiley uses the mechanism of a political conspiracy to have Jerry really see his habitat. It's late 1983; various military factions are plotting the overthrow of the corrupt civilian government, while a civilian group hopes the military will give their guy--Beany Abubakar, a charismatic populist--a break. Beany's group needs a Western pawn to demonstrate government corruption; they choose Jerry. They set fire to a ministry; Jerry is charged with arson. An American embassy plan to smuggle him out of the country goes awry; Jerry is surrounded by the conspirators, who come clean, appealing to him to stay and stand trial. Especially persuasive is Beany's gorgeous ex-wife Pamela, who almost ends Jerry's five years of celibacy (dating from the death of his beloved wife Charlotte). Jerry lets her drive him out of Lagos to Beany's ancestral village, and we switch from a suspense to a road novel as Jerry looks, listens, and learns: that pidgin English is not inferior to standard English; that juju (voodoo) is a vital component of Nigerian art and culture. He returns to Lagos with a bundle of talismanic artwork, and though Beany is killed in the confusion of the military coup and Jerry resumes his career, inwardly he has been changed for life. Wiley's affection for Nigeria and Nigerians gives his work a buoyancy that compensates for but cannot hide its weaknesses: Jerry's blandness, the contrivance of his immersion in Nigerian culture, and an ending that elevates his cleansed vision above the national tragedy of Beany's death.
Pub Date: Sept. 8, 1992
Page Count: 272
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1992
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