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THE LOST TRIBE by Mark Lee

THE LOST TRIBE

By Mark Lee

Pub Date: June 15th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-18695-9
Publisher: Picador

Poet/playwright’s Lee’s first novel, set in contemporary West Africa and loosely reminiscent of Heart of Darkness. Lee’s Marlow is Ben Chase, a not particularly religious American who has been working for a Christian relief agency, building solar ovens out of tinfoil in which he cooks frozen turkeys flown in from the States. Not surprisingly, the project failsñthe agency eventually loses interest in it--and Ben finds himself marooned in the capitol with a bedraggled group of expatriates. He hammers out a few articles for Reuters and, finding himself in a bit of political trouble, signs on with a well-digger for United Christian Relief--David Mather, Lee’s Kurtz. But unlike in Conrad, this turns out to be a journey not so much into the heart of darkness as into modern farce. Mather has evidence of a lost tribe called the Maji in the desert north country and mounts an expedition to see if they are the fabled Lost Tribe of Israel and, moreover, if they have maintained Christian traditions now lost to the world. Mather is like Kurtz, however, in that he is larger than life: He becomes a savior to a city dying of some mysterious virus when he brings them water. Unlike Kurtz, he’s a likable man, an incurable romantic who can nonetheless react forcefully to the thugs and bandits met along the way. The Maji don’t turn out to be anything like he’d hoped, and they may be about to kill him when a great sandstorm arrives and does the job for them. By a miracle--a noble old man has a premonition of it--a Ben Chase escapes to tell the tale. Conrad by way of Joyce Cary, with a dash of Graham Greene: the tale of a fool told by a fool. Still, diverting and unusual, from Lee’s mad expatriates to his often desperate but bemused Africans. (Author tour)