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Another fine mess

Reader fan critic teacher reader fan.

Currently reading

Ottessa Moshfegh
Knife Fight and Other Struggles
David Nickle
Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity
Andrew Solomon
The Good Lord Bird
James McBride
Ancillary Justice
Ann Leckie
Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More (New Edition)
Derek Bok
Dissident Gardens
Jonathan Lethem
Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s
Kim Newman
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
James Gleick
Complete Novels
Dashiell Hammett, Steven Marcus
In the United States of Africa - Abdourahman A. Waberi, David Ball, Nicole Ball, Percival Everett Okay, um, hmmmmm, well--I definitely liked this, but it wasn't what I'd expected, and yet what it accomplished in a spare 120-ish pages seemed worthy, often witty, sometimes dreamlike, usually challenging. At times it was an essayistic novel; at other times, more like a prose poem, with hints of a few running narratives, the deep (and occasionally shallow) context of its counterfactual fable.

It is decidedly NOT a shrill what-if recentering the world on the "first continent," not mere political screed -- yet its humanist political passion is often (frustratingly, for this reader) explicit. Its counterfactual contextualization usually serves as rich complicated suggestive challenge to readers, a goad which invites us to interrogate the discourses of Africa and "the West" which seem so natural and historically necessary. At times it casually reframes some recognizable sign or icon in this world, with great wit (e.g., that "little pimp" Jacques Derrida has a cameo), with a welcome and sometimes less-welcome silliness (Ikea turns up as Nka furniture in many homes; on the other hand, Haagen Dazs is now Hadji Dass).

I'd complain more about such heavyhandedness if the novel didn't resist the realist form or focus of many novels. We follow a central story of exiled Malaika, a Norman brought up and acculturated in Asmara, as she becomes an artist, returns home. Sort of follow: Waberi's narration slips into the second-person around her story, slips away from her story as often into noodlings, imagistic doodling about different places.

I appreciated it, and found it smart, constantly teasing my conceptions of what a novel is... but I can't say I loved it. Ironically, its aesthetic experimentation didn't gibe neatly with its social and political concerns, and I ended appreciating the collage but not the cohesion.