Friday, October 27, 2006

Pg.69: "Governor of the Northern Province"

"Nice liberal Canada skewered for dinner: A T.O. smartypants creates a war criminal to send up smug Canuck hypocrisy and gets a Giller Prize nod for his trouble"
—headline from a major review of Governor of the Northern Province in the Toronto Star
Governor of the Northern Province is Randy Boyagoda’s debut novel, a story "about an ex–African warlord named Bokarie who moves to small-town Canada—a place of comfort and tolerance, a place free from judgment and punishment for his gruesome doings in the northern province of his native African country, Atwenty."

I asked Randy to apply the "page 69 test" to his book; this is what he reported:
Does p. 69 of Governor of the Northern Province represent what the novel attempts on whole?

Yes, insofar as the page registers some of the enjoyments and difficulties that an ex-African warlord encounters in leading a life of meek politeness in small-town Canada, which is the premise of the novel on whole. The page also suggests another important dimension of the book — the clumsy, well-intentioned ways that white liberal Westerners attempt to make especially exotic newcomers welcome in their communities. Page 69 of Governor of the Northern Province concerns a conversation between the novel’s main character, Bokarie, and a new bride, as they dance together at her wedding. Bokarie has attended the wedding as her limousine driver, which brings out of the rather drunk bride a tearful apology for the racial implications of his being forced to do such work, and then a maudlin confession about a black man from her own past. Bokarie is enjoying all of this a great deal, especially since he’s pressed close to her and she, like the other Westerners he’s met, is happily “blaring her indignation on his behalf.” But as much as he likes the feel of a “gauze-swaddled pelvis,” he can’t avoid the sound the bride makes as she sucks away on a beer bottle. She brings the bottle too quickly against her teeth, creating a “CLICK-SMACK!” that recalls memories of an event in Africa that Bokarie would rather forget. Eventually, he excuses himself and leaves the reception hall to clear his head; meanwhile, the bride is given some coffee and other wedding guests evaluate the dance moves of the new African in town, speculating on the faraway sources of his impressive rhythm: “‘Must be from all that drumming you see on those documentaries.’”
Many thanks to Randy for the input.

Click here to read several reviews of Governor of the Northern Province.

Here is one question and answer from a Torontoist interview with the author:
You've mentioned in interviews that your novel satirizes a few Canadianisms do you think Canadian literature doesn't do enough of this? Why do you think that is?

We no longer trust humour as a way to say something serious. Canadians take themselves terribly seriously, are righteous and solemn about the nation's significance to the world at-large, and myopically proud of the nation's virtues. And so much of contemporary literature simply affirms these tendencies, instead of offering a hard check against them, which is what I'm trying to do with this novel. A satirical novel about a genocidal African warlord moving to small-town Canada and becoming a convenience store clerk and political operative proposes that multiculturalism, diversity and tolerance - Canada's holy trinity - aren't entirely pristine virtues, but can in fact be vices.

Randy Boyagoda is an English professor at Ryerson University. He writes for various North American periodicals--he reviewed Ngugi wa Thiong'o's new novel in Harper's September issue--and is a contributing editor to The Walrus magazine.

Shortly after Orhan Pamuk of Turkey was awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Literature, Boyagoda wrote in the New York Times:

No doubt, the latest Nobel laureate's books will be taken up with immediate interest by thoughtful readers searching for wisdom about the violent crosscurrents of religion, politics, history and culture whipsawing our world. But one can only hope that this rush to conscript Mr. Pamuk as a literary mediator in the clash of civilizations will fail.

If it doesn't, we risk missing the core insight of his work: that the chaos of cultural upheaval, and equally the harmony of intercultural connection, is always secondary to what Mr. Pamuk's fellow Nobel laureate, William Faulkner, described as ''the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself.''

Previous "page 69 tests":
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue