(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

To the benign dictator of Kush, his country is more a state of mind than a true nation. The Coup also shows that Colonel Hakim Félix Ellelloû sees himself in much the same way. Writing his memoirs while in exile in the south of France, Ellelloû attempts to understand both his native country and himself, alternately writing in the self-justifying first person and the more censorious third.

For the bulk of The Coup, the forty-year-old Ellelloû wanders in Kush, “this remotest and least profitable heart of Africa,” in various guises, trying to discover some mystical explanation for the deadly drought which has plagued his five-year regime. He has resisted all foreign efforts to help alleviate the suffering of his people, ordering a mound of sugarcoated breakfast cereals, potato chips, and other useless food sent by the inevitably eager-to-help Americans burned and the accompanying American diplomat shot. Ellelloû sees his sub-Saharan nation as an extension of his mind and soul, and he jealously guards it against potential violators. Despite basing his political system on an Islamized Marxism, he fears and distrusts the Soviets. Despite his nostalgia for his days at McCarthy College in Franchise, Wisconsin, in the 1950’s, the colonel hates the idea of American interference even more.

During his undercover travels, always followed by two bodyguards in his Mercedes, Ellelloû, who already has four wives, acquires a...

(The entire section is 535 words.)