By William Boyd.
This is my August book, i.e. the book I read this month. I promised myself at the beginning of this year that I will try to read a novel every month and so far I’ve managed pretty good. I know that it’s a small number, I could have done so much better, but I was realistic and took into consideration that I can’t read the amount of books I read during my Uni years when that was my only job. Now I have a real job which implies, among other difficult things, waking up very early in the morning and preparing myself previously…and, above them all, consumes all my energy, and sometimes patience as well. So, one book a month is the best I can do at the moment!
A good man in Africa is a funny book, ironically and sarcastically speaking. Most of the times it comes out from all the embarassing and humiliating moments the main character encounters. And, as there are lots of awkwards moments, Morgan Leafy is the subject of them all. Of course, it is a biased perspective even if the novel offers to its’ readers a 3rd person narrative., ( it happens as such entirely from Morgan’s point of view). However, it is most interesting the way in which Morgan presents his stories, it’s not funny for him that’s for sure.
He’s the ‘good at everything’ man, who tries really hard to pull the ropes for himself but instead of gaining a good social position he loses everything. The daughter of his superior is getting married with his inferior after he was very close to start a relationship with her wouldn’t have been for the news he received, when he was the closest to get her in his bed, that he caught a sexual transmitted disease from Hazel, a local girl who is his constant lover, but who has many other constant lovers as well. Should I mention that people pay for her?
He has to get rid of a corpse and things are not at all easy because of the ‘bad juju’ and mighty ‘Shango’, he has to be Father Christmas for the kids at the party thrown by the Commission and he hates it, he has to bribe a doctor , probably the only honest man on Earth, or in Africa. He sleeps with the wife of an influential local politics man who finds out about the adventure and thus, threatens and blackmails Morgan. He is naive and finds out in the end of the book that this woman only used him, she needed a visa in order to escape from her husband. Morgan could have got her the much desired visa due to his job. Those moments full of emotion and attachment vanished, probably they were all part of Morgan’s imagination.
And there is more, more awkardness and humiliation. There’s a strange encounter of a drunk Santa (Morgan, of course) with the duchess who visited Nkongsamba for Christmas…in her bathroom!!!; a funny fishing experience with Priscilla (the daughter of Fanshawe, his superior), funny encounters with dr. Murray and getting into bed with Mrs. Fanshawe while realizing that somewhere in the drawer near his bed he still kept the panties of her daughter, whom he had to refuse at that time because of his disease. Probably that was the most unfortunate moment for him as a man!
Still, a good man in Africa is the one who dies at the end of the novel, dr. Murray. He is correct and puts the right emphasis on justice and morality. He doesn’t cope with the corruption around him.
His death represents a symbol of his inability to adapt himself in a territory in which there is nothing to be done when it comes to right and wrong and in which the rich leads the poor and has its’ own way no matter what. This bit of reality is the one which ends the novel (not my favourite ending, I admit).
A good man in Africa presents in itself an interesting mixture of the harsh African reality with the funny position to it of the ‘others’ (the ‘obuya’), in our case, the British officials.
In order to get yourselves a small idea about Morgan, the main character:
„There were two good things about living in Africa, he told himself convivially: just two. Beer and sex. Sex and beer. He wasn’t sure in what order he’d place them- he was indifferent really- but they were the only things in his life that didn’t consistently let him down. They sometimes did, but not in the randomly cruel and arbitrary way that the other features of the world conspired to confuse and frustrate him. „
P.S.: William Boyd was born in Accra, Ghana, and funny thing, I’ve received this book as a gift from a friend who visited Ghana (and Accra) this spring. He had no idea that the author was African.