On Putting Down the Shovel

The year was 2006, and the table was set for a party. A coronation of sorts; Hugo Chavez had succeeded in overcoming six years of instability which included multiple electoral challenges, a national strike, an attempted coup. Those had been acts of resistance; because the would-be (soon-to-be) dictator’s onslaught was of unprecedented accumulation of power which included a stacking of the courts, a complete reform of the legislature (eliminating one whole chamber of the congress), full usurpation of the central bank and the oil industry and a mega-election which saw the socialists in full control of Venezuela’s apparatus of power – at all levels.

Oil prices had spiked from roughly $10 bpd in 1998 to $70 bpd – with output remaining roughly the same at 3m bpd. What did Hugo Chavez do with his seven-fold increase in national income and his limitless power? He threw a party. Social “Missions” they were called, redistributive schemes for this or that new entitlement ballooned the size of government as twelve new para-government organizations began to provide benefits in food and health care and housing and care for the elderly (in exchange for a little loyalty? Sure, he was ‘El Comandante’ after all). And why not? Was it sustainable? Well, nobody ever asks how long the euphoria will last when the party is raging, do they? Or which drink it is that will push them over the edge into blackout. They sure don’t think about the morning-after.

Ruin

During that period, Chavez brought down poverty from 71% to 41% (to arrive at last at 32% in 2013, the year that Chavez died). Of course, the term “reduced poverty” is economically and politically fraught; because poverty is rarely about money. And redistribution works super well, until it doesn’t anymore – that is to say while there is still something to redistribute, while high oil prices cover a multitude of egregious sins. Chavez’s reign of irresponsibility sure provided for a fun party, and I was there for much of it as witness to the madness, but the hangover? Extraordinary and bizarre like a slow motion train wreck when you pull your car to the side of the road because you just have to watch; the blood and fire and screaming demanding spectators of the most morbid kind: 97% poverty, a collapsed public infrastructure, wanton hunger causing 19th century famine conditions, the return of once-vanquished diseases and an exodus of 3,000,000 bread-refugees. The phones don’t work, neither does the internet or the electricity or the sewage or public water systems. Astonishing corruption, extreme violence (Caracas is the most dangerous city in the world), tremendous inequality (the kingpins are doing just fine). Of course, if they’d had unlimited supplies of money their communist project would have worked well enough. It might have even been benevolent (at least for most people. Just be careful what you say, what you write!!). The beatings only start when the money runs out. It’s about scarcity. But alas, they didn’t – have unlimited pockets that is – and Venezuela failed.

What am I getting at? What was it that brought the failure? Sure, bad ideas and stupidity (and in Venezuela’s case exacerbated by communism) but the fundamental, the root problem? – loose fiscal and worse monetary policy. Boring, right?

Careening recklessly towards the abyss. I’ve been having a struggle with myself over two over-arching narratives which are mutually exclusive, in fact are in serious conflict with each other. The first narrative comes from the Angus Deatons and Steven Pinkers of the world who speak of a “great escape”. Globalists who highlight that “We’re better off than at any time in history”. Those who ask each other on prime-time talkshows from air-conditioned studios in New York, “Even if you could choose, at what other period would you live than now?” Which brings me to the second narrative, because the answer to this question from most of the denizens of West Africa, of Bangladesh and Pakistan and Indonesia is ANY OTHER TIME! Sure the statisticians say that they have exited extreme poverty, the World Bank’s widget counters holding creepy little parties in lightless rooms on Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate this or that ‘milestone’ – But do they know that, the actual escapers? Do they feel it, those crouching over dusty patches of earth beside a desiccating lake? Because they are the unprotected, who are forced to deal with the repercussions of environmental degradation and oceanic pollution and incompetent ‘services’ from bloated governments and tremendous inequality and the rising criminality of a world that is more dangerous than ever; a world which has returned to the Victorian Atlas where the great cities are google-mapped and the interiors increasingly un-charted, ungoverned – hic sunt dracones.

map

Back to the globalists – because they too are living the party – they do after all control the FED spigots and drink expensive whiskey with stolen money in Washington and Brussels and Tokyo while writing books about a “Great Escape” and doing dodgy math involving third-world struggles for prosperity and opportunity and meaning. Oops, did I say that? I meant basic subsistence – one dollar became two, lets throw a party! Because they are the last to feel the pinch; as the first to get access to the newly minted money. But a pinch is coming, oh my is a pinch coming; to be sure, the party may last a little longer than Hugo’s – unencumbered (mostly) by Venezuela’s communist baggage (Expropriate It!!!). But it is the same loose fiscal and monetary policy; people who think debt is a “medium term problem” (code for somebody else’s problem; in the U.S., code for ‘the other party’s problem’). Never mind its my problem, because I have a little boy. And he’s already got an albatross around his skinny little neck, though he doesn’t know it.

‘Quantitative Easing’ (sounds like what it is, industrial strength Metamucil); massive global budget deficits to provide services in diminishing returns to people angrier and more demanding – because people don’t want ‘services’, they want responsibility and restraint. $15,000,000,000,000 in new debt during the last two administrations, that is $46,000 per American. $200,000,000,000,000 in global debt; an unpayable mortgage upon not only our children’s future, but their children’s and the children after them. A global Ponzi scheme; but who has the courage to say so?

In Venezuela when the party finally ended, it came with the shock of a collapse in oil prices; something foreseen by any decent economist. When the buzz of the party-goers wore off, they realized that no businesses were functioning, that there was no foreign exchange in the banks, that the oil industry’s output had collapsed by 60% (due to no investment at all – even in maintenance of wells which tend to dry out) and that malinvestment had resulted in skewed priorities which sucked even good money away from the few rational citizens doggy paddling to keep their heads above while the cyclone raged around.

I’ve been recently criticized that I often identify problems but rarely propose solutions. Guilty as charged, I supposed. It’s most often easier to point out what is going wrong; and I don’t pretend to be one of those pedantic globalists who flies around the world lecturing people from expensive hotels where the Ubers dare go. Things are complicated and it’s often even hard to identify the ruin within ourselves, let alone for foreigners living in a strange place. However I will make an exception in this case. Because it’s an easy solution (if difficult to implement). We must live within our means; for a hangover cured with more booze means you’re an alcoholic, to continue the metaphor. We can’t indebt ourselves out of debt. We must return to savings-fueled growth; stop the FED from manipulating our interest rates through loose monetary policy; allow interest rates to float, encourage individual savings again; and balance our budget (with the aim at beginning to pay back our debt).

When you get caught digging yourself into a hole, the first lesson is PUT DOWN THE SHOVEL. That is it, that is all.

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Posted in International Affairs, philosophy, Uncategorized | Tagged | 9 Comments

Our Rolling Road of Wonder

I grew up in the haunted northern valleys of Argentina’s Andes mountains. Snuggled up against Chile’s Atacama and Bolivia’s Altiplano, for those who can make the trek and brave the 20,000 foot peaks and passes is an escarpment, a quebrada, sliced as if by a celestial claw and through which boils a savage river – when it flows. For it is also a desert landscape, saguaro cacti stories tall when we are told they only grow in Arizona and only up to the elevation of 4000 feet. Yet nevertheless there they were, decorating the mighty mountains of Argentina, clinging defiantly to the arid ground above the treeline. Haunted, because this valley became the last ancient stronghold of the Inca, at the very southern tip of their empire, before the Spaniards came. And the Spaniards always came. There is a monument to the last stand of the Indians in Humahuaca (working with the Argentine independists), Pedro Socompa towering in 70 tons of bronze over the little town.

humahuaca

When I was a boy I would roam the ancient highland kingdom. It was a quiet place (before land-lines up there, to say nothing of cell phones or internet or satellite TV). The mountains still held the scars of the empire’s passing; ancient forts and rock art and potsherds and arrowheads and sometimes (if you were really lucky; I was never that lucky) gold. I was there during the dark days of dictatorship; but we were missionaries and in the far north, far away from the politics of Buenos Aires and a-political and therefore safely ignored by Virela and Galtieri and the other thugs who ran that country for a season. I was (blissfully) ignorant to the goings on; as all five year olds should be. What it did mean was that I had the mountains to myself; along with the llama and sheep herders and Quechua families descendants of the Incas making the occasional pilgrimage to visit the remains of their loved ones on the hilltop cemeteries. I would trek the hills for hours, looking for the telltale signs of timeworn empire.

Wonder. That’s what it meant for me, lost in my highland sanctuary. Climbing high upon the rock-mountain face of the escarpment only to find impressed into the huge slab a series of tiny footprints; hiking deep into a crevice in the mountains until arriving at an ancient waterfall to find rock fossils full of trilobites and other ancient marine life. Running through the ruins of the abandoned Hotel Huacalera, escaping from the ghosts that haunted that establishment after the patrons had moved on and the erstwhile owners had boarded up the entrance – but not well enough! Wonder is about exploration, about reveling in a past full of ghouls and goblins, stories out of the mists of time. And it is about the future, the hope of discovery and the bottomless well of knowledge; that most sacred of thirsts which only becomes more intense the more it is quenched. Wonder is not static, for it quickly molds. It is not rigid, for it would quickly break. Wonder must have movement, and change. Wonder is a road that rolls along a path taken alone, nobody can accompany you on your wonder (that has been a hard lesson for me); a solitary journey that might depart from anywhere, and upon which one must keep a sense of faith and freedom and discovery for what is over the next hill, and the next and the next and the one after that.

Nowadays the wonder has moved on from that lost valley (at least for me), as have I (at least for now). Wonder requires a flowing, of time and politics and history; the valley has become a weekend destination, bed-and-breakfasts and wine tastings and visitors from Buenos Aires and Salta. Hotel Huacalera is now a five star establishment; do little-boy ghosts still hide in the once-broken-down rooms, jumping out to disquiet the guests, though we are not yet dead? Are we part of their wonder now, though ours has moved on?

Our world has become somehow wonder-less, hasn’t it? For wonder demands a yearning and a healthy sense of self, tempered with the reality that you are only one of billions and are probably not as amazing as you think you are. Arrogance, hubris – they are the death of wonder. It requires curiosity; which is the antithesis of self-righteousness. And it requires effort, which is something in short supply these days. Wonder is actually actively discouraged; it is rare now for a movie to serve as a vessel for wonder – neither do our books inspire it – and our politics, well I will say nothing at all about this. Certainly our cluttered world which has at once become too small and too big and too known has robbed us all of our ever-rolling road.

As for me, I mourn the loss of wonder even as I search for its rediscovery. I sometimes capture a flash of it. In a graphic novel; or a new story about a Pacific Viking; or a hasty glance at a lost place. At a spark of discovery in life which has become safe and tedious. And I miss the wonder; C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, which I am reading to my little boy now – watching his eyes fill with excitement. J.R.R. Tolkien who gave us the ancient mysteries of middle earth; things we are told to put aside, to be serious, to ‘grow up’. Because the wonder is what makes life worth living.

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“It Can’t Happen Here”? — Nope, Not Like That

Some books are supposed to be good. And then they are not. Some authors are supposed to have mastered that special ability to put pen to paper and end up at the end of 80,000 or so words with a sonnet which has delivered whole lifetimes; experiences lived and passions enacted and mistakes made juxtaposed against the humdrum of the lives of those of us who read them.

Some literature is said to be magnificent; and then it isn’t.

That is what “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis is like.

It is surprising, given its plot – which at the hands of a good writer could have made such a remarkable story. The tale is of a politician in the United States, at a particularly vulnerable period in American history (as was the great depression) when things were ripe for radical change. “It Can’t Happen Here” is about that change; about the takeover of the institutions of government by a power-hungry individual and how America became totalitarian. I won’t use any “ists” here (fascist, socialist, communist, populist, etc.) because they are unhelpful sometimes. I also won’t use party in this review (although the dictator in question was presented as a Democrat). The reality is the totalitarianism of America’s dictator was just that, a lust for power and the greed of those who wish to live their lives unopposed. I suppose, if I were to compare, this novel is describing Huey Long.

Now, the problem? This novel is boring. Not unreadable – as something filled with nuance and technical tools for delivering plot points. Just boring – Albert Camus once complained that American literature was “basically just a base retelling of events: and then this happened, and then this, and next that (my paraphrase)”. That’s what reading this novel is like. “But its by Sinclair Lewis” you say. “He won the Nobel Prize, the first American who did!!” you insist.

True.

So why a novel with no flavor and no personality? I found the answer to this question in the introduction to the reprint. It Can’t Happen Here was written at great speed in the summer of 1935, in response to the growing fascist threats Lewis saw all around, both at home and abroad.” And there it was – the author agreed to allow the use of his great name to advance some political agenda, noble or ignoble, resulting in bad work.

There’s a lesson here; though most in the US these days don’t want to hear it. Do not permit your politics to get in the way of your art, of your professionalism, of your love of yourself and your country and your clients – your love of what you do. For Lewis, 80 years later the “fascist scare” or “red scare” or whatever he was worried about is long gone. And all we are left with is a bad novel. Penguin Classics re-released this novel in 2017. Clearly theirs was an attempt to target a particular political figure who sits astride the United States like a colossus these days. In their hunger to play the role of #resistance; they are committing the same errors as Lewis did 80 years earlier. They are letting politics get in the way of their (alleged) love of the written word. Sigh.

Oh, and a final point. “It Can’t Happen Here” is about how a country plunges into dictatorship. Now, I know a thing or two about how this happens (I’ve lived in several and watched their planned suicides). Sinclair Lewis does a disservice to the freedom-loving world in his cartoonish attempts to portray something which is often quite subtle and nuanced and often even full of charm – yes even charm. Modern day dictatorships are less frequently announced with the ringing of jackboots, and quite more so with the silver symphonies of empty-headed artists (dare I say it, like writers).

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“The Debasement of Human Rights” – A Book Review

Ayn Rand used to say that there was ever only one fight in the history of philosophy; and every new conflict is simply a re-enactment of this one original contest. Plato against Aristotle. Those who revere the collective and seek uniformity and conformity under an overpowering state; and those who believe life more abundant is best found through the empowerment of unique individuals protected by a government responding to the consent of those that she governs.

That is it; that is all.

Cue the post-WWII period; the advent of the United Nations Organization and the new battle that has been brewing, until it finally was lost – by we good guys – to the forces of collectivism. I’m speaking of the struggle to preserve our concept of human rights.

Human Rights; that term which was never used much by the founders (if at all), though they did talk about “laws of nature and of nature’s God” defended through a constitution. A document to serve the people not as a vehicle for utopian fantasy but instead a practical list of basic protections from a government which is always on the verge of becoming a state; as Lynn Hunt explains in “Inventing Human Rights”. A state – the very idea is utopian, and our old utopianisms do abide, don’t they.

Unfortunately “laws of nature’s God” – we call them natural rights – were too effective to survive. Effective, in that they serve as such an active containing wall against the dictators’ pretensions that they must be undermined. But how to do that? Those of us who studied theology know that the devil is in fact beautiful. What they needed was a bait and switch, something that would “look fairer and feel fouler” as J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote; to weaken the rights which are such an existential threat to them, they needed something lovely.

All this is what Aaron Rhodes’s new book “The Debasement of Human Rights: How Politics Sabotage the Ideal of Freedom” is about; and it is systematic and extraordinarily well researched. And it pulls no punches. Rhodes is a veteran human rights defender who for more than thirty years has stood against the world’s worst totalitarian regimes; varnished over and “looking fair” as were the communist states of eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. His important book outlines the process by which principles of positive law slowly replaced our understanding of fundamental human rights, like a steady salty tide eats out the limestone base under a mighty castle. While we all thought we stood strong, that we had won, that the “end of history” was upon us, slowly fundamental rights of humanity were replaced in favor of positive law bestowed upon partisan politicized states. “Rights” which are not rights at all but entitlements, services provided with varying degrees of success by bloated and often brutal regimes began to overtake basic freedoms by which we protect ourselves from those states and hold them accountable to our consent. Economic, Social and Cultural rights they are called – because who would disagree with that?? – and their very existence demanded a curbing of natural law, starting with our sacrosanct right to property. Because once property is usurped, everything else is easy.

Freedom House has categorized our times as in a “democratic recession” – and this is not a coincidence. As the rights with which we protected our freedoms were eroded from within by the very organizations tasked with protecting those rights, little by little we have lost our liberty until again half of the world is unfree.

So, what to do? Read Aaron Rhodes’s important book. Familiarize yourself with the jargon that is so oft-repeated that it has become second nature to even good people who have not ever had the need to challenge what they are saying. And then, armed with knowledge, make a stand. Because it is now clear who we are standing against – just as it is now clear what the new human rights demand, represented as they are in their highest council by Venezuela, Cuba, Syria and other despot regimes eager to talk about universal healthcare or primary education over the rights to speak and to retain our property. Until, finally, at the end, le deluge. And what good is speaking then?

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The Anthem Of Your Life

If your life were a song, what kind of a song would be it? Would it be a Latin American protest song, trova music fatalistic and sad yearning for the communist dictatorships to free you from your freedom; ‘Todavia Cantamos’ by Mercedes Sosa, “We still sing, we still beg, we still dream, we still wait. Despite the beatings—”. Maybe ‘Ojala’ by Silvio Rodriguez, “Hopefully something will happen which will erase you forever, a blinding light, a burst of snow, or at least let death come for me to see you no more—”. Maybe it would be a cotton candy pop song, epicurean and nihilistic, Avicii signing about ‘The Nights’, “One day you’ll leave this world behind, so live a life you will remember” until he killed himself, leaving the world early and with no memories at all to speak of.

For Ayn Rand life is to be lived as an Anthem, “a song or hymn of praise or gladness”. There’s something about Rand’s writing which only those who understand it catch; those who do not being too busy desperately seeking to identify flaws or denigrating its style (that is if they have even read it, most of its detractors reading only cherry picked blurbs from Huffington Post or ranting about a three word title). So what is it, that we identify with?

It’s the feeling of wonder.

Anthem is a novel about wonder. It’s a novel about discovery: the discovery of self, the discovery of privacy, the discovery of love, the discovery of creative ability, and the discovery of the world – the wondrous world all around us. A world that wills us to throw off the chains which hold us fast and march fiercely and fearlessly forward, ignoring those who tell us we should not, that we must not, that we cannot. Desperate voices which tremble in fear and weakness, anxious in their own impotence because they know that we are held in their world with only the strength of a lie; a lie, however, like any good lie, which has a spark of truth. That spark being that we are essential to them; that in fact their world crumbles away at the quietest breathy utterance of that single word, “I”.

Those whose worlds are built upon the employ of slaves fear this word above all else. Those who don’t understand Ayn Rand won’t know what I’m talking about (and will mostly likely fill my Twitter feed with sewage).

Anthem

Anthem is not a new novel – what is new is the “Graphic Novel” edition recently released by Jennifer Grossman and Dan Parsons at the Atlas Society. I found this short novel to be extremely compatible with that genre; and the Atlas Society did a magnificent job with the art which is sort of “Soviet Socialist Realism” turned on its head – which was Ayn Rand’s style all along (the haters won’t recognize this either) – we can call it maybe “Idealist Realism” or maybe, just maybe “Realism of Wonder”. Yes I like that last one the best.

So buy this novel, its not on Amazon right now but you can go to their web site here and purchase a copy. You’ll be happy you did; and mine is going in my Ayn Rand collection… But probably after I read it again.

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On Gratitude

What are you thankful for? I find sometimes that asking myself this question is a helpful exercise as I sit on my front porch in the early African morning with my coffee, looking out over the mists which still cling gently to the green and the dawn-birds searching for that last worm or spider before they all take refuge from the pounding African sun. Up above my little boy is just waking. A steam rises delicately from my cup, the aroma of a place quiet and clean and safely tucked away from Africa’s camps. I haven’t yet become embroiled in the day’s battles; my mind is still clear and fresh from sleep and I can examine things in their natural state.

I walk through the dewy grass out onto my back porch, to gaze through the concertina wire into a makeshift village which has popped up while nobody was looking in a green area which is supposed to be a city park. Big holes dug into the ground as tilapia ponds; cement walls under zinc roof, wooden doors and windows; smoke drifting upwards from the outdoor kitchen, breakfast cooked over pieces of artisanal charcoal which is ruining the continent. Cows and ducks and goats – all signs of prosperity in Africa. Juxtaposed against the camps, they must be thankful. But I wonder, are they?

IMG_0403[1]

I used to live in Dubai, for a season, and I would often engage the Pakistani cab drivers who would ferry me from one super-mall to another. “I live in one room,” they would tell me, “with 10 other drivers. We have come together. We work 12 hour shifts; and once a year we go home.” To Islamabad, to Lahore or to Peshawar or Karachi. And then he would smile, “I am providing for my family and saving for my restaurant; thanks God.”

Then, for a time, I lived in Venezuela. An expensive apartment in an expensive part of town, one of those with private elevators and a little guard station out front which monitored the entrance, allowing or denying access in order to assure the security of the residences from the perilous lands outside. A service we all paid for through the condo fees; a doorman of sorts I suppose, but not in the Fifth Avenue way. One day I realized that one of the guards had been missing for a while. “What happened?” I asked the building manager. “He was fired.” “Oh?” I asked, “Why was that?” It seems he had been, calentando las orejas, ‘warming the ears’ of the other building staff. Warming the ears, a lovely Venezuelan turn of phrase for bitter whispering, malicious and petty and mean. “We control access to the doors!” he had been telling the other doormen. “We can even deny them entry, until they give us what we want. Why should they have the right to live up there, while we are down here – and we control access to the doors?” Those were in the heady days of Hugo Chavez; when his political project was just beginning.

Our joy depends upon how we look at life. How we look at ourselves; and against whom do we juxtapose our own existence. I live in a nice house in Africa. Internet, electricity, air conditioning. To most Africans I am the .1%. To the Fifth Avenue crowd I am perhaps ‘middle-class’, at best. To a Pakistani cab driver I am just another American going from one mall to the next; for a Venezuelan communist I am a foot soldier of oppression, a perpetually flashing neon sign that there are people in the rung of the ladder above him, a ladder he must force his way up through violence and blood. Its all very complicated, isn’t it?

Back to Africa. Not far from where I sit, are the camps. Dozens, hundreds, thousands spread across this hard continent. I have written about the camps – cultural appropriation, those who don’t know the camps might call it. But no matter, because those who understand how ruin happens will call it what it is, empathy; and will know I have earned the right. Empathy is the leavening agent for gratitude, and gratitude is the enzyme which catalyzes action; as the opposite of envy, which is the leavening agent for greed and catalyzes violence.

So I ask you, this morning. Who are you? Are you a hard working Pakistani cab-driver anxious to build and hold something for his little boy? Are you a bitter doorman who only can see the comings and goings of your oppressors? Are you protesting something, or are you building something? Do you want to take, or do you want to give back? And, this morning, is there something you are thankful for?

Because gratitude infused in public policy is sacrifice; while envy weaponized into law is socialism. And we are, even today, trying to decide in which type of society we want to live. As for me, I have already decided. What about you?

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“City of Memories” – A Book Review

If Congo is Africa for Africans; the obsidian consciousness of a continent – Nigeria is Africa for the rest of the world, as both its promise and its threat.

Nigeria is old. Epic battles of ancient armies; the resounding echoes of empire and emirate rising in a raucous cacophony which still rings true in the ears of her people and reminds them of where they have come from. “Identity is like history, it should be a tool, not a burden.”

It has been said that, if western philosophy is born of wonder; the African version is the child of frustration (Consolation Philosophy they have called it). Albert Camus’ joyful nihilism replaced in favor of Chinua Achebe – stories of post-colonial liberation quickly become those of enduring corruption and violence. “And who are you fighting against? I see all your hackles up but I can’t see why,” Funmi said finally. “Nigeria. I am fighting against Nigeria.” “The same Nigeria you are fighting for?” “Yes,” said Rahila.

“City of Memories” by Richard Ali is about all this; about ancient ethnic feuds – the religious and tribal making common cause with dynamics of love and power. A Romeo and Juliet story against the backdrop of an African high plateau. This is a love story; but also a story about faith and futility and sadness. But it is a Nigerian story so it is not one of hopelessness but instead of the epic struggle to overcome; not ending in suicide as the Montagues and Capulets of old bit instead in joy.

Now to mechanics – for that is what really matters. And it is here where Ali shines. Because this book was a joy to read. The beats were fast paced when needed, and then tempered by the descriptions which give the reader a chance to catch his breath and become immersed in Africa. The dialogue rings true; the characters are compelling and the novel ends in a crescendo.

I encourage you; read this book, become immersed in Nigeria as you learn how a Muslim boy and a Christian girl can find each other. And as you do, think about this, “If they can overcome so great a chasm, maybe we also can find our way to peace?”

On a personal note, I have had the chance to get to know Richard Ali a little bit – which has in no way influenced my review of his novel. Those who know me, at least, will accept that. What I will say is that it has been a singular opportunity; to debate Donald J. Trump and Albert Camus and Francis Fukuyama with an African intellectual while eating chicken and fries in a small restaurant in a rain-swept African capital. Isn’t that what gives two writers the most joy of all??!!

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