These two recent novels view with terror and humor, respectively, current African tensions between tradition and modernity. Naipaul's mise-en-scène, strongly suggestive of contemporary Zaïre, is shaped by the author's vision of human helplessness amid the ruins of traditional social institutions; the plight of his Indian hero-and of East Africa's Asian community-is credibly rendered, but the mysterious malevolence of the African villagers does not ring true except within the author's particular cosmos. Updike's American-educated Marxist dictator of a small Sahelian satrapy sounds remarkably like the author himself at his best and worst-and his four wives embody, variously, the earthy virtues and ornery independence of vintage Updike women. The author seems to have kited his fancy freely while keeping his elbow firmly planted next to basic African source books. The resulting depiction of cultural mésalliance is a comic delight.
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