I GET ON THE BUS by Reginald McKnight


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A search for identity is the theme of this first novel by prize-winning writer Mc. Knight (Moustapha's Eclipse, 1988). At times the book seems like a surrealistic Heart of Darkness, as the central character seeks meaning for himself, and understanding of the occult-suffused African society in which he has come to work. Evan Norris, a young black man, is the son of a prosperous family. College-educated, he had drifted into the navy, and then moved on, never quite sure what he was searching for but aware always of a pervasive sense of purposelessness. Questioning his blackness, he decides to join the Peace Corps and work in Africa. His psychologist girlfriend Wanda hopes he might learn there to be more accepting of his ethnicity. But Evan is soon bored teaching in the Senegalese countryside, and finds the people and culture alien. Ill with malaria, he takes a bus for Dakar, but the bus journey turns out to be part hallucination and part reality--a journey that recurs throughout the story--and he can never satisfactorily distinguish between the two. He thinks he kills a beggar just after he gets off the bus, but is not sure. Still seriously ill, he is taken to the home of a Marabou, a healer, where he meets the mysterious one-eyed Monsieur Gueye, Aminata (his beautiful daughter), and son Phillipe. Occasionally lucid, Evan still feels uncertain of his surroundings and what is happening to him. The people he meets all seem to know about him; mysterious things happen to him; he is accused of being a soul-eater; and Aminata and a friend say he must kill a local American in revenge for some long. ago murder. In between, Evan smokes a lot of pot and thinks of Wanda. He is confused, and so are we, and the ending is scarcely more enlightening. McKnight has created a convincing atmosphere of confusion within Evan himself, and the swirling society without, where everything is fluid and possible. But the novel, for all its powerful writing and ambition, doesn't quite achieve what it seemed to promise.

Pub Date: May 21st, 1990
Publisher: Little, Brown