Gilbert Cruz
April 05, 2006 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Whiteman

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Tony D'Souza
publisher
Harcourt
genre
Fiction

We gave it a B+

In this intensely observed tale, U.S. relief worker Jack Diaz arrives in the coup-ridden Ivory Coast on behalf of Potable Water International. When funding for clean-water programs dries up after 9/11, Diaz is forced to fit in as best he can: farming, hunting, and seducing locals. Tony D’Souza, an ex-Peace Corps volunteer, achieves a delicate balance in creating Jack, a white man (in Africa, even Latinos are white) who is a blatant cliché in his quest for African ”authenticity,” but real enough for you to believe in his mission. Yet, as the chief in Jack’s village puts it after receiving a food shipment that causes a major contretemps, ”We didn’t ask for that gift, or this trouble it has brought.” Like Whiteman itself, the statement is a subtle but damning response to the assumption that Western aid is all-benevolent.

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