Monday, April 20, 2009

No Mistaking Africa

I ordered a book called Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind, by Curtis Keim. Why? Because my Google Alerts popped it up. I am briefly mentioned in it twice, as the author of Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik which is referenced in two passages.

The book showed up, first opened by my neighbor who took it in along with her own books, but then opened by me.

I'm just starting to read the book, but I find myself absurdly grateful to the author for having written it.

The gist is this:

Africa—and by Africa we mean sub-Saharan—is more than dancing villagers, benevolent aid workers, and safaris. It's more than AIDS and elephants. More than "Aren't the natives adorable and so much more REAL than Americans?"

Thank you, thank you, to Curtis Keim for writing this. It's something I have been assaulted by in book reviews and in interviews. So many people show up wanting to read about the proud native, the beautiful friendly children, and the insights gained through living as a volunteer in a rural village that desperately needs the white man's help. (Baloney.)

Duh. It's a continent. There are cities, rich people, and people living absolutely normal, healthy lives all over sub-Saharan Africa. There are factories and roads and shopping malls and flushing toilets. And if I have to defend myself one more time against someone who is upset that I didn't write a "beautiful native" book, I might well "chuck a spear" myself.

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