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A Good Man in Africa

William Boyd's novel A Good Man in Africa (1981) follows the misadventures of Morgan Leafy, a hopelessly self-centered employee of the British Deputy High Commission in a fictional country called Kinjanja, in West Africa. The book is hilarious at times and at others rather serious and even macabre. Leafy is tasked with removing the dead body of a servant named Innocence from the grounds of his employer's home. She was killed by a lightning strike which the locals believe was the work of Shango, a god who'll become far more angrier if anyone touches the woman, and so Leafy has to arrange for a special ceremony before the corpse can be taken away. This is no easy task, and it takes days due to the freakish cause of Innocence's death. Meanwhile, he's also contending with a gonorrhea infection, is juggling all the drama stirred up by his relationships with three very different women, and gets caught up in the nation's dirty politics when he's blackmailed into bribing a respectable doctor. He's comically miserable for most of the book and, for endless reasons, either dislikes or loathes most of the people in his day-to-day life.

I thought the novel was good, and also humorous until Leafy's circumstances turn dire towards the end. I couldn't tell if Boyd had intended for those last chapters to be on some level as amusing as the earlier parts or just sad, or a jarring combination of the two. Boyd, who grew up in Western Africa, also wrote Brazzaville Beach (1990), which is set in Africa as well. This one I enjoyed more than A Good Man in Africa, which was his first novel. He's an entertaining storyteller, and his writing is a bit like Graham Greene's. His 2002 novel, Any Human Heart, got lots of great reviews, so I've added it to my list of books to read.


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