In Washington’s debut novel, a young woman flees racial violence and becomes embroiled in a coup d’état.
As the novel opens in 1980, readers meet 23-year-old American Nicole Jefferson, who was inspired to study the culture of Africa by her mother’s idyllic stories about it. As a child, Nicole’s love for the continent “grew deep and wide like the roots of the acacia trees.” She signs up for the Peace Corps, expecting to encounter a welcoming, communal culture in Liberia, but things don’t go as planned. Before her plane lands, she and her fellow recruits are caught up in a hijacking attempt, orchestrated by European mercenaries. Later, the volunteers are gathered into the American embassy for safety; there, a U.S. senator’s daughter slips Nicole an audiocassette, making Nicole part of a conspiracy with connections to the highest levels of the Liberian government. Before long, she encounters Gen. Souleymane Guindo, the country’s new defense minister, who “carried himself like he’d grown up in a castle, and not on a cow farm.” The two commence an affair that embroils Nicole still further in a plot to overthrow the rightfully elected but dictatorial Liberian president. Washington keeps things moving swiftly in a plot featuring a car chase, secret messages, palace escapes, and dark family secrets. The prose is fleet and readable despite an occasional tendency to overstate (“little boys whose eyes were bloodshot and yellow. Like jawbreakers. Their eyes looked like jawbreakers”), with intriguing new developments constantly catching the reader’s eye. A former Peace Corps volunteer herself, Washington shows off her knowledge of the politics and the mise-en-scène of West Africa, and readers will have fun matching up the real-life historical picture with the author’s fictional one. The story ends on a cliffhanger—possibly a foretaste of a sequel to come.
A turbulent, exciting story of West African revolution.