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In his take-no-prisoners novel about politics, immigration, and rock-solid Canadian naiveté, Randy Boyagoda emerges as the Evelyn Waugh of the North. An African named Bokarie arrives to work in a convenience store in a small town near Ottawa, desperate to conceal his warlord past, yet secretly laughing at what passes here for tragedy. A little girls accidental drowning results in a Think Pink campaign-the childs favourite colour-that conveniently re-launches Jennifer Thicksons stalled political career. This graceless, ambitious young woman is undaunted by her previous political failure, when she ran unopposed for Graduating Class President and lost to None of the Above.
Playing along with the patronising ignorance of the townsfolk-their "zoological stares"-Bokarie gets carried away by local politics, graced as he is with a clever tongue, plenty of Biblical references, and great dance moves. Joining Jennifers nascent campaign, he aims to accompany her to Ottawa. Boyagoda shows a shrewd knowledge of the workings of small town Canada, where the guy with the car dealership is the richest in town, and an Aldermans widow expects to win a seat in Parliament by riding on her dead husbands coattails. That this doesnt happen is deeply satisfying.
The fun continues in Ottawa, where Jennifer makes an unexpected splash with Think Pink-handily transformed into a reference to African dawns-and her photogenic assistant. Before you can say multiculturalism theyre swept away on an African junket with our cunning female Governor General. By now emptied out, haunted by memories of violence, and of his one spontaneous act of heroism, Bokarie prepares to meet his fate back home. Although we are expected to swallow a few too many surprises, there are enough expert jabs to the soft belly of our collective smugness, coupled with brutal global realities, to keep us shocked and amused for the ride that the warlord and the neophyte undertake radically alters both their lives.
Nancy Wigston (Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada
'An auspicious debut' -- The National Post
'Lively...zeroes in on various targets without slackening pace: colonialism, foreign aid, Anglo reserve and the exalted status of hockey all take stinging hits. Despite this novels scathing wit and sardonic tone, a hint of idealism sneaks in after all.' -- b
'Nice liberal Canada skewered for dinner: A T.O. smartypants creates a war criminal to send up smug Canuck hypocrisy and gets a Giller Prize nod for his trouble' -- headline from a major review in the "Toronto Star"
Writer, critic and scholar Randy Boyagoda is a professor of American literature at Ryerson University in Toronto. He is a contributor to Harper's, The Walrus, the National Post and The Globe and Mail.