THE TURNING OVER by William McCauley


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A first novel that vividly evokes the depressing decay and corruption of a place--West Africa--where things have so fallen apart that revolution becomes palpably imminent, while romance (in this case, between two expat Americans) remains less than compelling. Set in Sierra Leone in the recent past, just before the revolution that destroyed a once relatively prosperous country, the story begins as protagonist Robert Kelley is finishing up his development project on the coast and planning to join his lover Marie in Freetown. Robert is one of those expats who can never really go home again: he enjoys living in the bush, frequently indulges his drug habit, and has no qualms about bedding any number of women. In fact, he seems to indulge in so much risky behavior that it's hard to believe he's as efficient an administrator as we're told he is. Marie, working on women's issues in nearby Mali, is not pleased with his behavior either, and when the two meet again in Freetown, where Robert has just agreed to take on another development project, they quarrel. She goes back to Mall, while Robert, who has badly cut his foot and refuses to take care of it despite the admonitions of the Embassy doctor, prepares for his new job. With a team of local scientists, such as Prince and Daniel (whose qualifications and talents are ill-used by a rapacious regime that has destroyed the economy), he heads into the bush. The team is to conduct a survey for an aquaculture project under development, but when they meet up with a band of renegade soldiers, most of the men are murdered. Robert manages to escape, but by now his infected foot is gangrenous. Delirious, he finally reaches the coast where he once lived, but his foot can't be saved. As he recovers, the political situation deteriorates and he decides to return to Marie in Mali. Strong as reportage, but the storytelling itself--together with sketchy, not-always-credible characters--follows weakly along.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
Page count: 232pp
Publisher: Permanent