Building on some of the territory identified by the author in his first work of fiction, the prize-winning collection of stories Moustapha’s Eclipse (1988), and on his experiences as a teacher in West Africa, I Get on the Bus is a compelling meditation on the state of blackness in the closing years of the twentieth century. Given the novel’s background and the innumerable manifestations of Senegalese life, culture, language, and environment that it contains, it is tempting to regard the work in an autobiographical light. Although the work itself does not intentionally dismiss such an approach, its use of a first-person narrator paradoxically makes that approach unsustainable, since by virtue of the terms of reference of his narrative, the protagonist becomes a representative and problematic case and not a distinct, ego-centered “I.” Evan Norris is a condition rather than a person; or rather, because of the type of person he is, he becomes a condition.
That condition issues from the involvement of Evan’s perceptive and alert intelligence with a culture that is articulated in unfamiliar and unassimilable terms. Evan’s intelligence, the critical character of which has been honed by his education, speaks essentially of the individual’s autonomy. His decision to leave the United States and a complicated but potentially rewarding situation with his girlfriend, Wanda Wright, confirms his individuality and autonomy. His individuality leads Evan to reject his position with the Peace Corps. It is not clear, however, that he rejects the Peace Corps as such, since to do so would place him in an analytical mode and thus undermine the peculiar forms of impotence that color his Senegal experience.
By resigning his Peace Corps position, Evan in effect submits to a different order of experience,...
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