The chaotic coups, counter-coups and underground revolutions of an oil-rich West African nation, related in roiling prose.
Wilmot’s debut, set in the mythical nation of Niagra, is a broad satire on both arrogant African dictators and American interlopers who’ve come to exploit the political instability and poverty of its people. General Daudu, the nation’s leader and chief tormenter, was trained at Fort Bragg, where he was so seduced by country music that he’s banned political Afropop singers like Fela Kuti and forced all stations to play the likes of Toby Keith and Lee Ann Womack. (He erected a statue of Elvis in the heart of the country as well.) But the American invasion isn’t just cultural: The likes of the Burton Holly Corporation and Green and Branch are eager to cut deals to drill—and control Niagra’s political fate—both before and after Daudu is removed from power in a bloodless “khaki revolution” led by a renegade army officer. Though there are plenty of comic swipes at U.S.-led globalization, Wilmot’s clearly written this story with his teeth clenched in anger: The book is partly dedicated to executed Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Wilmot’s best-drawn characters are similarly concerned with human rights—and similarly victims of circumstance. Rabiu Nafiu, the son of a viciously punitive judge, is defiantly outspoken in a host of underground newspapers; Bob Marley, a stunningly talented young artist, is also tragically buffeted by the constantly shifting political sands. Their stories might be more affecting, though, if Wilmot had better organized his tale. The story is maddeningly digressive and overstuffed, built on cascades of run-on sentences, poorly signaled shifts in time and overly detailed histories of minor characters. The messiness doesn’t wreck the book entirely—the decentralized feel is actually fitting given the subject matter—but both the humor and the tragedy could cut more cleanly.
A long, bumpy ride, though Wilmot’s rage and passion are palpable.