Monday, March 9, 2009

The Tethered Goat

Nicholas Winer
YouWriteOn (2008)
ISBN 9781849231268
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (2/09) 

Africa… the mysterious continent… jungles, wild animals, great kingdoms… exotic beauties, majestic cities, bright colors… genocide, famine, diamond mines… Let's face it; most of us have some preconceived notions of Africa. And a good few of us are utterly fascinated by it, maybe even ventured as far as traveling there a time or two. I'll gladly admit to being one of those people. As the luck would have it, I managed to spend several months in Africa, yet there is so much I do not know about it. Nicholas Winer's "The Tethered Goat" introduced me to a part of Africa that was new to me, and totally different from the one I know. His Africa is slightly desperate, totally corrupt and immensely intriguing, and I'll remain forever grateful to Mr. Winer for the reminder that one should not romanticize anything too much.

Mark Delama is a young, very idealistic aid worker, stationed in Ethiopia during the Mengistu's rule. His idealistic viewpoint is slowly, but surely being shattered the more he deals with a variety of corrupt politicians, policemen and assorted thugs posing as the good guys. In a short period of time he's been arrested, threatened by a variety of officials and also made aware of the dangerous games some of the highly placed locals are playing for personal gain. There are several moving side-plots, involving the local people, most notably a young Sudanese freedom fighter, Gatwech, who becomes a pawn in a dirty game of power; and Mr. Belai, an old man who wants to do the right thing for his family, but pays dearly for that desire. Those two are loosely connected by Lucy, whose character is not my favorite in the book; and I dare to say most readers will agree with me after having read the book. There are plenty other villains in it, some more likeable than others, and some of them utterly intriguing, Tesfaye probably being the most unexpected one. This heady mix of international intrigue (my favorite being the games Americans and British play with each other), oppressive local brand of Communism, exploitation of locals, sparkly emeralds, the heady scents and flavors of Africa as well as some breathtakingly beautiful descriptions of Africa is cleverly intermingled with scenes from Mark's private life and his developing love story with a young American journalist, Val. Author's love and knowledge of Africa are very much evident, and his descriptions are powerful and make a real impact.

I would recommend "The Tethered Goat" by Nicholas Winer to anybody interested in the politics of the 80s, the real Africa or anybody who enjoys a fast-moving, thrilling and hard-hitting story. I am looking forward for more illuminating reading from this talented author.