cover image Tefuga


Peter Dickinson. Pantheon Books, $14.95 (255pp) ISBN 978-0-394-55180-7

Sixty years after his mother, Betty Jackland, came from England to tribal, backwater, colonial Nigeria to marry his district-officer father, Ted arrives to make a documentary film based on her diary. Its pages recreate that time in detailthe life of an isolated woman in the overwhelmingly man's world of the British Empire; the ways of the resident Kitawa and Hausa people; the ambiguities of ""indirect rule''; Betty's identification with native servants (including a houseboy who later rises to the rank of spiritual leader). Hovering over the shadowy events of the past and over a present steeped in corruption and violence is a mysterious shaping event toward which the action moves. In 1921, in the shadow of Tefuga hill, the new emir selected by the British is killed by the Kitawa women. Given its climactic significance, this act is strangely undramatizedoccurs, in fact, offstage. While prolific writer Dickinson (The House Party delivers a smoothly phrased, interesting narrative, it is somewhat marred by a sense of anticlimax and a profusion of pedestrian detail. (April 21)