cover image Hangman


Maya Binyam. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (208p) ISBN 978-0-374-61007-4

Binyam’s beguiling and dreamlike debut chronicles an immigrant man’s return to his home country after 26 years. The unnamed narrator, a 50-something Black man, doesn’t know why he’s traveling, and the reader only knows someone has called him on the phone to say arrangements have been made for his trip. During the flight, an attendant inexplicably informs the narrator that the passenger next to him is dead. After he lands, a taxi takes him along roads that seem “random and resistant [to navigation]” and he arrives at a bus depot with a vague sense that he’s meant to visit his dying brother. The route is circuitous, and it leads to an ending that’s twisty and illuminating. Along the way, the narrator has a series of random and mordantly funny encounters that highlight themes of colonialism and cultural differences (a foreign white woman who has adopted a Black farmer’s son claims she’s committed to “the work of mutual understanding,” and a local former clergyman says of a pile of donated clothing from abroad: “Although these people were ashamed of their old possessions, they were nevertheless attached to the idea of their possessions being used to their full extent”). This is one of those novels that demands a second reading, and is well worth the time. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (Aug.)