The setup for the legion of characters and the landscape of Africa took about 100 pages. By then I was hooked by the richly developed people that fill Bull’s story. The writing is pure prose.
“Remember these stories, Tlaga. My people live inside them. When a tale is told, everyone who ever heard that story is alive again….”
“An alphabet makes the words that keep a people together….”
The story is dusty, hot, dangerous and violent. But so is Africa. Just when the new settlers think they’ve domesticated the continent, warrior ants, a herd of elephants and floods storm through. Bull’s characters populate Africa but never effect it, much less conquer it. Olivio, the grotesque dwarf. The reader can’t help themselves, they love and hate him at the same time. The star-crossed lovers, Anton and Gwenn. Hugo von Decken and his son, Ernst. German pioneers homesteading their piece of Africa. The list goes on and on.
The story begins in (literally) the last days of World War I as a German unit traverses the plains of Africa, toting along their prisoners of war, some severely wounded. I don’t write spoilers so that’s about all I will tell of the story. I adore fiction that teaches me history. I had no idea of a Soldiers Lottery for land in West Africa after the world war ended. Whereby soldiers who fought in Africa could enter a lottery and homestead land that belonged only to the African native.
This is their story. But it’s also Africa’s story; how it was fought over and then the land was passed out as booty after the war. Given away even though none of it belonged to any white man.
I highly recommend this book. Take your time, savor each word, taste the air of Africa. That’s what I did!
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