From Publishers Weekly
Sad ironies illuminate this deftly mapped journey to the postcolonial heart of darkness, winner of the 1990 Grand Prix du Roman de l'Académie Française. Signing on for employment with an import-export company, working-class Victor boards a rickety boat called The Will of God
and sails from France to Port-Banane, an outpost in an unnamed, contemporary African country. Also on board is the banana plantation boss, who's bringing along a beautiful, light-skinned black French prostitute, Lola. She's reluctantly hired at the plantation's brothel, called Sunset Boulevard, by a one-eyed madam who transforms all her girls into Hollywood-style platinum blondes. Victor, who's infatuated with Lola, is put in charge of the banana plantation's local store, filled with cast-off goods no one buys. With hacked, peroxided hair, Lola still aspires to whiteness, so Victor sells her a corrosive powder—the "White Spirit" of the title—that bleaches her skin. The remainder of the powder ends up in the hands of a fanatical African religious leader, who puts the substance to horrific use. With prose both dark and rollicking, Constant (also Prix Goncourt winner for Trading Secrets
) chronicles colonialism's terrible absurdities and reverberating effects on both Africans and Europeans. (Apr. 10)
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*Starred Review* French novelist Constant, a Prix Goncourt winner, presents a whip-smart postcolonial satire. Victor, a penniless and naive young Frenchman, lands a dubious position running a weirdly stocked store on a gigantic African banana plantation. Unnerved by his strangely misshapen employees and intimidating business rival, the enormous and unflappable Queen Mab, and too nervous to act on his infatuation with a high-strung young woman of mixed race intent on passing as white, he finds comfort with an orphaned chimpanzee. But everything is off-kilter in this banana republic, where the indentured black workers are regularly drenched with insecticide, the brothel features women imitating old Hollywood starlets, and a religious sect based on mere smatterings of scripture threatens to run amok. Starving and desperate, Victor believes he has found salvation in the form of a violently toxic white powder. Dubbed "white spirit," it bleaches black skin and is soon in feverish demand. Constant's mordantly funny novel is at once a brilliantly imagined and rambunctious inquiry into environmental havoc, our close ties to our primate cousins, adulterated religion, the mystique of whiteness, and the persistence of racism, and a piquant tale of survival and longing. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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