Salim envies his well-to-do friend Indar, who informs him that he is going away to England to study at a famous university. Indar explains that one has to be strong to continue to live in Africa and that “We’re not strong. We don’t even have a flag.” It is against such a backdrop of insecurity and fear that Salim decides to leave the coast and his Muslim community and head into the interior. “To stay with my community,” Salim acknowledges, “to pretend that I had simply to travel along with them, was to be taken with them to destruction. I could be master of my fate only if I stood alone.”
Nazruddin, a family friend, offers Salim his abandoned shop in the interior of Africa, at the bend of a river, in a settlement that has been half destroyed during the violence that preceded the area’s political independence. Salim travels to the interior, takes over the small shop, and spends the next seven years attempting to establish himself before the violence and social chaos return.
He befriends some Indian families, trades with a mysterious character named Zabeth, a magician from downriver, and agrees to look after her son, Ferdinand, who attends school at the local lycée. He soon acquires a living companion when his family, which broke up and dispersed during a social revolution on the coast, sends him their slave, Ali, who takes the new name of Metty (a name that means “someone of mixed race”). Salim later befriends a white couple, Raymond and Yvette. Raymond works for the local ruler, Big Man (a character drawn after Joseph Mobutu, the king of Zaire); Big Man is the closest white personal friend of Raymond, who manages a university in the Domain, a group of new buildings in the town’s former white suburb.
Father Huismans is a teacher at the lycée, where Ferdinand enrolls as a student. Although the lycée is a remnant of the colonial period, Father Huismans possesses a genuine love for Africa and its traditions. He amasses a large collection of African masks that are intended for specific religious purposes. Salim observes that, although Father Huismans knows a great deal about African religion, he does not seem concerned about the state of the country. During the subsequent revolution to purify Africa and cast off European influences, Father Huismans becomes a victim of...
(The entire section is 962 words.)