HAJJI MUSA AND THE HINDU FIRE-WALKER by Ahmed Essop

HAJJI MUSA AND THE HINDU FIRE-WALKER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A collection of 20 shorts and a novella, written since 1969, that centers on Johannesburg's Indian community. The stories pungently depict a self-contained Muslim district of petty bourgeoisie and eccentrics who come into conflict with each other and with Gool, the local gangster. Essop most often employs a slightly formal diction reminiscent of V.S. Naipaul. At its best, the result is a complex tone, both comic and somber, which leaves us uncertain whether to laugh or cry. At worst, we are still entertained with a vignette, while recurring characters reinforce our sense of people who keep to their own devices. South African politics infrequently intrude, though a clash of cultures is often at issue. In ""Film,"" an effective satire, a riot ensues when The Prophet is scheduled for local release: the recent imbroglio over The Last Temptation of Christ comes to mind. More poignantly, in ""The Hajji"" a prideful man, shamed when his brother crosses the color line to marry, cannot forgive that brother even in death. Some stories (the title story, ""The Yogi,"" ""Gladiators"") comically describe the corruption of Indian tradition by entrepreneurs or skeptics. Others introduce a sinister note: in ""Aziz Khan,"" the beardless gangster Gool has Azia, author of ""Muslims in Decay"" (an essay on beards), beaten up. Finally the novella, ""The Visitation,"" is a grim chronicle of corruption that turns this sinister note into a powerful fable. Gool, at first only the protector of the rich landlord Mr. Sufi--who believes his checkbook can solve any problem--turns from a nuisance to an obsession to a ""ghoul"" that Sufi, never a religious man, tries to exorcise with little success. An entertaining look, mostly ironic but occasionally poignant, into an ethnic enclave of South Africa.

Pub Date: Nov. 28th, 1988
Publisher: Readers International--dist. by Consortium (213 East Fourth St., St. Paul, MN 55101)