A novel of evasion and pursuit, set in Africa and written in the spare, allegorical style of Davis’ first novel, Walk on, Bright Boy (2007).
The unnamed narrator is an itinerant black librarian traveling across a sparse and desolate landscape. He hides books for safekeeping in a dry well but carries a shoulder bag of classic works that he admires and freely alludes to, his special literary loves being Moby Dick, Great Expectations and Jabberwocky. For largely unknown reasons, but perhaps mainly because he represents a despised intellectual and cultural tradition, he’s being pursued by the Warriors of God, a group of religious fanatics bent on destroying him and all he represents. Along the way, he meets Kate, an idealistic foreigner who wants to expose the corrupt government by documenting atrocities such as the killing and raping of women and children. While Kate is ferociously independent and motivated by a strong sense of injustice, she remains naïve about African culture. Their fates intertwine when it becomes clear that despite her feistiness and fervor, Kate would find it difficult to survive both the harsh conditions and the relentless pursuit of the Warriors. Kate and the librarian eventually link up with Mara, a vulnerable young girl also being tracked down. Complicating the psychology of the characters is Jemal, who had grown up and been friends with the narrator but is now one of the Warriors pursuing him. Kate and the narrator establish a love relationship, one that Davis makes both inevitable and plausible, a neat trick indeed. By the tragic end of the novel, the narrator, who has been preoccupied with the power of both words and storytelling, reaches the conclusion that “writing is memory, reading is memory rescued, but it cannot be rescued until the writer has let it go.” The narrator discovers that he needs to “let go” in this, and in many, ways.
An absorbing read.