THE HOTTENTOT ROOM by Christopher Hope


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Caleb Looper is a South African reporter, forceably expelled (or so it's thought), who hangs around with other African exiles in a London bar, The Hottentot Club. The club is run by Frau Katie, a German Jewish refugee, and her unlike-minded, very British daughter Rose--and throughout the book (for a good two-thirds of which Frau Katie lies upstairs dying of cancer), Hitler's Berlin and apartheid South Africa are cinched into a thematic knot that Hope (A Separate Development, Kruger's Alp) makes convincingly tight. But Looper's not exactly the reporter he seems. He reports, it's true--but to the Pretoria regime, coerced (by poverty and blackmail) into being their London eyes and ears on the expatriate political scene. That Looper sends them only worthless junk for information seems for a long time not to matter to Pretoria--his sympathies are squarely with his fellow Hottentot Room-mates--but at book's end, Looper's luck runs short, and he's yanked back to South Africa. . .almost. Hope, an intelligent, nimble novelist, draws a fine gaggle of the dispossessed: each character from the Room has a recognizable profile but is given a human, comic tint rendering him or her individual. And there are smart satirical and historical asides on every page. Yet Hope can't seem to get the book moving: it builds up a big head of steam for a climax, but the preparatory recapitulation material also lets air out. Otherwise, it's a flinty, jibing, broken-field sort of performance by one of the better political satirists writing today.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1987
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux