The action of the novel is set in postcolonial Africa, in a state undergoing the traumas of self-definition after independence, and concerns the effects of change on the lives of several Indian Africans, Europeans, and native Africans living in Mobuto Sese Seko’s Zaire. As a journey into the heart of what the Europeans called “darkness,” the novel echoes Joseph Conrad’s earlier Heart of Darkness (1902) in structure and spirit. Its structure is a journey that reverses the one made earlier by slaves: Salim the narrator (like Conrad’s Marlow) journeys inland from the coast to do a job and earn a living, but he finds his identity threatened by his position as a non-African Indian in a “half-made society,” envying more secure neocolonialists privileged by the Big Man. He leaves for England, returns to Africa, and at the end of the novel, flees for his life to, one assumes, Europe. The irony of the once-colonized native finding refuge in the country responsible for his state of restless exile and insecurity is one of many circular and ironic movements in the novel. It suggests, as in his adulterous affair with Yvette, the perpetuation of one of the consequences of colonization: the cyclic process of exile and personal exploitation, as well as the recurring parasitic nature of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized.
The novel is in four parts: “The Second Rebellion,” “The New Domain,” “The Big Man,” and “Baitle.” The first part introduces the reader to Salim, his background, his problem with his own identity and that of his family (who were slave traders), his friendships with Indar and the narcissistic entrepreneurial couple Mahesh and Shoba. This section ends with the death of...
(The entire section is 711 words.)