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by Roy Heath

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-7145-3015-8
Publisher: Marion Boyars

 A wonderful comic novel about an irrepressible hustler and the culture that spawns and sustains him, set in Guyana, by the Guyanese-born author whose prizewinning fiction includes The Armstrong Trilogy (1994) and The Shadow Bride (1995). In a flexible, lyrical style featuring delicious dialogue expressed in exuberant pidgin English (``Is why you in such a bad mood?''), Heath follows the fortunes of Kwaku Cholmondeley (``pronounce it Chumley''), a failed faith-healer with boundless confidence in his own intrinsic genius. Kwaku (the eponymous hero of an earlier novel) tries out a range of career possibilities, from selling ``antique'' chamber pots to tourists to performing more-or-less inept espionage duty for a scheming civil servant (later, the minister of Heath's title), the son of the only patient who ever believed that Kwaku did heal her. But in the end, he returns to his healing practice and prospers, surviving the enmity of his former patron and even the unnerving prospect of being (erroneously) linked to a scandalous murder. This colorful and beguiling fiction is further distinguished by Heath's flair for incidental comic invention (a dog named Armageddon, a woman who believes her dead husband's spirit has entered her parrot); by full and convincing characterizations of its several major figures (besides Kwaku himself there are, notably, his perceptive blind wife Miss Gwendoline, a crafty bigamist who intends to stand for Parliament, and a betrayed wife whose embrace of treachery and violence frees her from bitterness and depression); and any number of marvelously composed extended scenes. The best include Kwaku's hilarious ``fatherly'' conversation with his daughter's fiancÇ (a successful ``acute puncturist''), and a family conference called to discuss supporting an indigent in-law, in which Heath lays out the conflicting (unspoken) emotional undercurrents with consummate skill. A dramatic display of character in action that has seldom been matched by any contemporary novelist. On all counts, a triumph.