Peace Corps volunteer Wentling (Africa’s Embrace, 2013) returns with a detailed novel that looks at what happened to a man named David and the West African village he lived in decades ago. This sequel opens with J.B., an eccentric man living in Kansas who takes daily long walks and performs rituals that peak around the full moon. The town, at first puzzled by J.B., grows to embrace him and his peculiar habits. It’s revealed that J.B. once lived in Africa and was, after he became deranged, extracted from the continent under mysterious circumstances. The village of Ataku, where J.B. lived, remembers when Bobo (as they called him) phenomenally disappeared inside a baobob tree, confirming their belief that Bobo was a special conduit to their ancestors. Meanwhile, Celestine, a village woman Bobo slept with, finds herself pregnant. She receives help from a healer who communes with plants and will train her to do the same. The village has decided to appease Bobo in the spirit world by repairing their roads and undertaking other developments, even when these developments attract more visitors than villagers are used to. Back in Kansas, J.B. disappears; while in Africa, Celestine begins talking to the baobob tree, hoping for Bobo’s return. The villagers struggle with poverty despite their developments, and drama arises as the corrupt government becomes involved. The village’s eventual leader, it turns out, may be Bobo’s own child. Celestine gives birth to a son, and the village chief decides that this son will take his place, prompting a complicated lie about the child’s origins. Bobo’s son becomes a natural leader but is determined to “meet” his real father, leading to a final transcendent experience with the baobob tree. The novel succeeds as a portrait of a fascinating village and its politics, even if this particular portrait is outdated. The villagers’ communal struggles and triumphs, especially when facing off against governmental officials, make for a compelling story. It’s somewhat surprising to find a white foreigner like Bobo so enthusiastically embraced as a spiritual talisman among the villagers; regardless, throughout the novel, the culture’s traditions are visible, such as the detailed ritual that makes Bobo’s son their new chief. There’s plenty of momentum as readers come to discover how various storylines intertwine, and by novel’s end, everything is so well-resolved that it’s difficult to guess what adventures the final installment holds.
Although there’s less ethnography and more drama than in the previous book, this well-drawn story will suit readers already interested in recent West African history.