Limp first novel about desultory lives in 1970s East Africa.
A small boy darts into traffic and loses his leg in an accident in the seaside town of Vunjamguu. The severed leg is cradled by little Agatha Turner while her mother improvises a tourniquet. Belgian-born Sarie Turner, orphaned early and raised at a Mission Clinic in the interior of this unnamed country, is married to Gilbert, a lowly courthouse clerk during British rule. Since Independence, lazy, timid Gilbert and his equally hapless wife have been scraping by on money sent from England by his Uncle James. Gilbert reads haphazardly. They both nap a lot. Sarie wears secondhand clothes. After the accident, she calls on the injured boy’s family, Agatha in tow. (The author shows as little interest in the children as do their respective parents.) Tahir is an Indian Muslim; his father, Majid Ghulam Jeevanjee, is a failed businessman and sometime poet who has not left the house since his wife died nine years before, hardly bothering to eat or wash. Nonetheless, these two unappealing people fall for each other. Meanwhile, Gilbert is in a panic; Uncle James has threatened to cut off their funds. Nudged by a good-hearted Greek who owns a successful ice-cream parlor, the impractical Gilbert has visions of himself as an entrepreneur supplying spare parts, though he knows nothing about cars and has difficulty identifying the spark plugs the Greek has purloined for him. Oblivious to Sarie’s affair, he sees the Indian as a potential partner and invites him to a business tea. Köenings seems to be reaching for gentle humor, but she has no more flair for comedy than for drama, and here the story ends, mid-flight.
Adultery and interracial flings have seldom been so dull.