In colonial Africa, everyone has their reasons.
Glancy’s (Terms and Conditions, 2014) panoramic portrait of the small African country of Bwalo works a sneaky charm as its political-thriller plot clicks together with the inevitability of a bad dream: the expats and natives who congregate at Bwalo’s Mirage Hotel are sharply drawn, multidimensional characters whose clashing perspectives and complicated personal histories provide a rich, often amusing context for the tragic (and tragically familiar) corrupting influence of power. Glancy employs a shifting point of view structure with characters (including a curious young boy, a dissolute Irish professor, and an embittered government minister) narrating chapters in turn as each prepares for “The Big Day,” the annual occasion on which Bwalo’s revered King Tafumo addresses his subjects. As Tafumo, a once brilliant and idealistic reformer, declines into senility and paranoia—and his administration, with its sinister secret police force, grows increasingly draconian—a violent plot unfolds to again bring revolution to Bwalo. Glancy deftly limns the hollowness of that promise through the lived-in, wholly authentic-feeling observations of his disparate cast, locating the political in the intensely personal. The author’s understanding of psychology and ear for distinctive dialogue make it easy to forgive some narrative clunkiness—naming a nurse “Hope” and a closeted hip-hop star “Truth” may be a little on the nose—and his mastery of the story’s tricky tone, simultaneously amused and horrified by human folly, prevents the novel from slipping into a bathetic lament or cynical joke.
Richly layered, mordantly funny, and graced by compassion, Glancy’s determinedly small-scale take on revolution and the death of dreams consistently seduces and delights.