Wednesday, June 04, 2014
Review of "O, Africa" by Andrew Lewis Conn
Andrew Lewis Conn has bitten off a large slice of the pie of human experience in his far-ranging novel, "O, Africa." Twin movie making brothers, Micah and Izzy Grand, make a fascinating pair of binary stars orbiting around each other in very different ways. Micah the sensualist and Izzy the recluse see eye to eye when making films - but in little else that involves their lives and their relationships.
This ambitious novel tackles a number of important philosophical issues while taking the reader on a dizzying journey from New York to the heart of the Dark Continent and to the dark hearts of Hollywood and Harlem. The author treats with issues of the meaning of time - as seen through the eyes of Americans, artists, and primitive Africans. Through the lens of several couples and triangular relationships, he examines the nature of love and friendship. He explores the nature of the relationship between an artist and his subjects, in light of quantum physics discovery that the act of studying an object changes the nature of the object being studied. He throws light on the question of how do modernity and traditional tribal ways of living interact with each other and influence each other. What is the nature of home, and how does one find it? What are the lingering effects of the slave trade - in Africa and in the U.S., and what happens when film makers attempt to portray the history of the tawdry chapter in our history? What are the unintended consequences?
I sped through this book, enraptured by the characters and the kaleidoscopic nature of their ever-changing relationships with one another and with the worlds that they inhabit. The historical context - the Roarin' 20s and the eve of the stock market crash - adds some spice to the goings on. Mr. Conn writes with a style somewhat reminiscent of E.L. Doctorow with a similar ability to portray the many nuanced layers of reality regarding the racial dynamics at work in 20th century America and colonial Africa. This book comes with my strong recommendation.