This Day and Age

Mike Nicol, Author
Mike Nicol, Author Alfred A. Knopf $22 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-41682-1
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-679-74200-5
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Justice prevails with biblical inevitability in this dazzling, variously textured political fiction from South African Nicol ( The Powers That Be ; A Good-Looking Corpse ). Or does it? The novel's two story lines send signals like satellite beams between themselves and to the reader: one involves characters, setting, plot, and typical narrative inventions of all fiction; the other is an inquiry into the nature of storytelling itself, whatever form it takes, and how various versions of happenings reflect, distort and shape the ``truth.'' The main character is charismatic Enoch Mistas, a black religious visionary from the plague-afflicted, poverty-stricken veld, who is alternately larger than life among his growing flock of believers and conspicuous in his absence, impossible for hostile authorities to capture or kill. The narrative consists of layered tales, appearing as fortunes told by seers, letters to the editor of the premier national newspaper, children's rhymes, diary entries, military dispatches, love songs, and more. Recurring portents so obvious to the uneducated are invisible to sophisticates and never figure in official accounts: ``. . . often history records only what it wants to, never mentions the cries of peacocks or the resonance of butterfly wings.'' From the president (whose ``bum-boils''--another sign of upcoming disaster?--are manifested early in this novel) to Ma-Fatsoen and Fat Eddie (villager parents of Enoch Mistas), the characters here are memorable as individuals and as supporting players in the ever-developing apocalyptic saga of the Mistas cult. This beautifully crafted, timely and disturbing fable offers much wisdom to thoughtful readers and/or governments concerned with peace and a better future. Nicol reveals the ultimate ``truth'' of ``what happened or what may have happened or what people heard happened'': ``Afterwards is where the story begins.'' (Nov.)
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