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Whiteman: A Novelby Tony D'Souza
"[A] likeable fish-out-of-water tale, generously peppered with parable....D'Souza does a fine job capturing the esprit of Africa and its people — at times both stunningly beautiful and horribly violent — without succumbing to lazy, occidental characterizations such as 'exotic' or 'mysterious' when describing the cumulative effects of life in a politically unstable and culturally diverse country." Jason A. Smith, The Common Review (read the entire Common review)
Synopses & Reviews
In an Ivory Coast village where Christians and Muslims are squaring off for war, against a backdrop of bloody conflict and vibrant African life, Jack Diaz — an American relief worker — and Mamadou, his village guardian, learn that hate knows no color and that true heroism waits where we least expect it.
During lulls in the violence, Jack learns the cycles of Africa — of hunting in the rain forest, cultivating the yam, and navigating the nuances of the language; of witchcraft, storytelling, and chivalry. Despite the omnipresence of AIDS, he courts a stunning Peul girl, meets his neighbor's wife in the darkened forest, and desperately pursues the village flirt. Still, Jack spends many nights alone in his hut, longing for love in a place where his skin color excludes him.
Brimming with dangerous passions and the pressures of life in a time of war, Whiteman is a stunning debut and a tale of desire, isolation, humor, action, and fear.
"A young American aid worker doing a three-year stint in a rural West African village works through his dislocation, cultural and otherwise, in D'Souza's promising debut. Working for Potable Water International, Jack Diaz — known to the locals by the Islamicized name Diomond Adama as well as the wryly derisive Whiteman — details the pulsing quotidian of Tgso, an Ivory Coast village in the neglected Muslim north, in a funny, credible first-person voice. With a civil war between Christians and Muslims looming, PWI pulls its people, but Jack stays on without funding or affiliation, working the fields and teaching about preventing AIDS. His cultural reportage is thick ('Because I didn't have a wife or children, I wasn't a real man to the Worodougou, and I took up hunting to compensate for that'), but despite stilted exchanges with locals, the real surprise of the novel is its fearless treatment of Jack's sexual relationships with local women. No matter who he's sleeping with, though, Jack knows his stay in the volatile region is temporary. When the war finally forces Jack to flee, D'Souza (no relation to political pundit Dinesh) skillfully counterpoints Jack's sojourn with his stateside existence, yielding unexpected motivations for Jack's work and his liaisons." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[Q]uirky, seductive and funny....
"[A] remarkable new novel....While Whiteman lacks the political subtlety of the far-flung novels of, say, Graham Greene or the post-colonial novels of V.S. Naipaul, D'Souza infuses it with great warmth." Chicago Tribune
"Africa may be ultimately unknowable for the author, but this nonfiction novel, his debut, represents a thrilling partial discovery." Kirkus Reviews
"[I]ntensely observed....Tony D'Souza, an ex-Peace Corps volunteer, achieves a delicate balance in creating Jack, a white man...who is a blatant cliché in his quest for African 'authenticity,' but real enough for you to believe in his mission. (Grade: B+)" Entertainment Weekly
"Whiteman, an intimate and unabashed account of how a young American man would live when dropped into a completely foreign environment, reads with a startling honesty that overshadows the absence of a strong plot." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"D'Souza is a beautiful prose stylist whose ability to drape a sentence across several commas and half-a-dozen 'ands' clearly owes something to Hemingway....The rest of the book is taut and nervy, so natural and alarming in its telling that it is tempting to wonder how many experiences Jack and his creator...share." Denver Post
"The book has a very real, immediate, nonfiction feel to it." Los Angeles Times Book Review
"[I]n original, unfussy prose...Whiteman suggests, with force and restraint, why a young American serving abroad, however haplessly, might not relish the prospect of having to return home." Wyatt Mason, The New York Times Book Review
"[T]his novel reads more like a short story collection. While each story is enchanting, the impact doesn't linger, and Jack's development isn't totally satisfying. Still, he's an appealing main character....Recommended." Library Journal
Brimming with dangerous passions, ubiquitous genies, spirited proverbs, and the pressures of life in a time of war, this extraordinary debut novel about a maverick American relief worker deep in the West African bush is a tale of desire, isolation, humor, action, and fear.
"What makes Whiteman so affecting is DSouzas understanding of what its like to fall in love with people who will never be like you, with a place that will never be home and with a troubled continent that despite your best intentions you can do nothing to save."—People (Critics Choice, four stars)
In a vibrant Ivory Coast village, Christians and Muslims are squaring off for war. Against this backdrop of bloody conflict, Jack Diaz—an American relief worker--follows the cycles of Africa. From the villagers and his village guardian, Mamadou, he learns of hunting in the rain forest, cultivating the yam, and navigating the nuances of the language. He witnesses witchcraft, storytelling, and chivalry. And together, he and Mamadou realize that hate knows no color and true heroism waits where we least expect it. Brimming with dangerous passions and the pressures of life in a time of war, Whiteman is a stunning debut and a tale of desire, isolation, survival, fear, and humor.
"A powerful debut novel, full of insight and sly humor, about a man who desperately wants to belong to a place that has little need of him. This is a visit to Africa you will not soon forget."—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"It's the quality of vision that makes D'Souza's novel notable . . . In original, unfussy prose, Whiteman suggests, with force and restraint, why a young American serving abroad, however haplessly, might not relish the prospect of having to return home."--The New York Times Book Review (Editors Choice)
TONY DSOUZAs writing has appeared in the New Yorker, Playboy, Salon, Esquire, McSweeney's, and Tin House, among other publications. His story Djamilla” earned a 2007 OHenry Prize. Tony is a recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and lives in Sarasota, Florida.
Jack Diaz arrives in Ivory Coast as yet another American relief worker in West Africa. But when religious tensions rise and Muslims and Christians square off for civil war, he quickly becomes something else: acolyte to the village witch doctor, agile polyglot, adopted son of the local chief, reckless maverick to his own aid organization. And most important to the Worodougou people of his village, he becomes Adama Toubabou: Whiteman.
Despite the mounting violence and the psychic isolation it brings, Jack refuses to leave his post, a Muslim village deep in the bush. With no funding and little contact with the outside world, he devotes himself to learning the cycles of life there—of hunting in the rain forest, cultivating the yam, navigating the nuances of the language; of witchcraft, storytelling, and chivalry. Longing for love in a place where his skin color excludes him, he courts Djamilla, the stunning Peul girl; meets Mariam, his neighbors wife, in the darkened forest when the moon is new; and desperately pursues Mazatou, the village flirt, all the while teaching his neighbors about the dangers of AIDS.
Alongside Mamadou, his village guardian, Jack learns that hate knows no color, that heroism waits for us where we least expect it. Brimming with dangerous passions, ubiquitous genies, spirited proverbs, and the pressures of life in a time of war, Whiteman is a harrowing tale of desire, isolation, humor, action, and fear.
About the Author
Tony D'Souza's fiction has been published in the New Yorker, Playboy, Black Warrior Review, the Literary Review, and Tin House. He has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and lives in Sarasota, Florida.
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