The Lost Tribe

Mark Lee, Author
Mark Lee, Author Picador USA $22 (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-18695-1
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-312-20420-4
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Like Nadine Gordimer's A Guest of Honor, this gripping but regrettably superficial debut from poet, playwright and reporter Lee depicts the awkward attempts of white outsiders to improve the conditions plaguing black Africans. An American reporter in an unnamed Central African republic, Ben Chase has found himself in trouble with the most recent government over one of his news stories, a fact communicated to him by soldiers who stage a mock execution--with Ben as the victim. Deciding to avoid the capital for awhile, Ben signs on with David Mather, an American aid worker who has taken on a very personal mission: finding a nearly unknown tribe called the Maji, whom Mather suspects may in fact be one of the lost tribes of Israel. Joining Ben and Mather for the hazardous journey to the Northern District are several Africans, including the mysterious Kazi, and an American husband-and-wife anthropological team. A former journalist in Uganda, Lee succeeds in capturing the chaotic, terrifying nature of African life during times of upheaval. The inner lives of his characters don't get as full a treatment, however. Kazi, in particular, is a stereotyped primitive mystic who communes with nature and communicates in grunts, and the others are fairly predictable. The plot hops along as the group struggles to reach the Northern District, but the psychological territory along the way remains mostly unexplored. Translation and dramatic rights: Russell & Volkening. Author tour. (June)
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