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Jaguar: A Story of Africans in America / Edition 2

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Overview

Issa Boureima is a young, hip African street vendor who sells knock-off designer bags and hats in an open-air market on 125th street in Harlem. His goal is to become a "Jaguar"—a West African term for a keen entrepreneur able to spot trends and turn a profit in any marketplace. This dynamic world, largely invisible to mainstream culture, is the backdrop of this timely novel.

Faced with economic hardship in Africa, Issa has left his home in Niger and his new wife, Khadija, to seek his fortune in America. Devout Muslims, the couple has entered into a "modern" marriage: Khadija is permitted to run her own business, and Issa has agreed not to take additional wives. Issa quickly adapts to his new surroundings, however, and soon attracts several girlfriends. Aided by a network of immigrants, he easily slips through gaps in the "system" and extends his stay in America indefinitely. Following a circuit of African-American cultural festivals across America, he marvels at African-Americans' attitudes toward Africa, and wonders if he'll ever return to Niger. Meanwhile, Khadija also struggles to make it—to become a "Jaguar"—as she combats loneliness, hostile in-laws, and a traditional, male-dominated society. The eventual success of her dry goods shop and her growing affection for a helpful Arab merchant make her wonder if she'll ever join Issa in America.

Drawing on his own decades of experience among Africans both in Niger and in New York, Paul Stoller offers enormous insight into the complexities of contemporary Africa. Alive with detail, Jaguar is a story of triumph and disappointment, of dislocation and longing, and of life lived in a world that no longer recognizes boundaries.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Drawing from decades of African experiences, Stoller, an anthropologist, delivers a complex novel that follows a pair of Nigerian newlyweds in the vicissitudes of life in Africa and in America. Issa Boureima leaves his new wife, Khadija, to travel to America in hopes of becoming a "jaguar,"--West African slang for a savvy entrepreneur who can ride trends to turn a profit. Hawking Malcolm X caps and kente cloth bags, Issa moves between African-American street fairs and expos in Harlem and New Jersey. Along with culture shock, a newfound community of African expat "jaguars" and a fascination with multicultural Americans, Issa has a recurring problem. He and his wife, both Muslims, are committed to their "modern" marriage, that is, a union that allows Khadija to work in the marketplace in Africa and forbids Issa from taking on any more wives. While Khadija struggles and thrives with her dry goods shop, Issa acquires a stable of American lovers, feeling guilty and dishonest. Since Issa sends sizable sums of money back to his family, Khadija faces the growing resentment of his family over her business and independence. Stoller adds subtle power and depth to the story as he shows her increasing loneliness and despair when she learns that her husband plans to apply for political asylum in America. Her life changes when she meets a kind and sensitive Arab shopkeeper called Yusef. Stoller's uncomplicated prose scores by choosing poignancy and realism over sentimentality and melodrama. The book's resolution does not follow the predictable route, satisfying in its wise revelations about the difficulties of the expatriate life and the human need for love. (Dec.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The setting of this novel shifts between Niger and America just as its narration shifts between Issa and Khadija Boureima. Though married, Issa and Khadija have lived apart for several years since Issa left his home in Niger for America. A street vendor hawking goods in Harlem, Issa seeks permanent residency in America. While caring for ungrateful in-laws, Khadija sets up a dry goods shop in Niger. Both struggle with loneliness, fidelity within the boundaries of their modern Muslim marriage, and the goal of becoming a "jaguar," a West African term for entrepreneurs seeking success in the marketplace. Ably applying his experiences as an anthropologist in West Africa with the Songhay people, Stoller offers rich detail about U.S. immigrant life and the ethnic, cultural, and class diversity of Niger; however, this debut does not elicit a strong emotional attachment to either character. Larger fiction collections should consider.--Faye A. Chadwell, Univ. of Oregon Libs., Eugene Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An unusual premise—the life of a West African immigrant in Harlem—is the best thing about this unfortunately slack first novel by Stoller, an American professor of anthropology who's written scholarly studies of Niger and its environs (In Sorcery's Shadow: A Memoir of Apprenticeship Among the Songhay of Niger, 1987, etc.). Issa Boureima, an enterprising "Nigerien," has left his young wife Khadija at home with his own sprawling family—greedy layabouts inordinately proud that they're "direct descendants of Songhay kings." While Issa prospers as a "jaguar" (a West African term for an independent entrepreneur who moves into new territory and rapidly establishes himself), sending money and well-meant promises back to Niger, we observe (in juxtaposed parallel chapters) Khadija's growth from deferential helpmeet to strong, confident woman who breaks free from her in-laws' haughty importunings ("Before, a woman might sacrifice herself for her husband's family. But no longer") and likewise succeeds as a merchant. That's about all that happens, in a story overloaded with simplistic contrasts between (brash) American and (politely passive) African manners and morals. Stoller concentrates on both Issa's and Khadija's relations with sympathetic countrymen (and does, incidentally, offer an intriguing fragmentary portrayal of African street merchants in urban America), and varies his novel's essentially repetitive actions only with such undeveloped (if promising) scenes as Khadija's unhappy confrontation with Issa's posturing mother Hampsa (a character who we'd like to have known better), Issa's problems with INS regulations, and his trip to the Midwest (part of "the American bush")for Chicago's "Black Expo" sales convention. Along the way, Stoller frequently interrupts the story's progress to lever in background exposition, not always keeping verb tenses quite exact enough to avoid creating some reader confusion. Which is too bad, because Issa and Khadija are, in their differing ways, potentially engaging characters, and their tale ought to have gripped the reader much more than it does.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226775289
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/1999
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 213
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Stoller is a professor of anthropology at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.�He is the author of many books, including ethnographies, biographies, and memoirs. In 1994 he was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2002, the American Anthropological Association named him the recipient of the Robert B. Textor Award for Excellence in Anthropology. He lectures frequently both in the United States and Europe and has appeared on various NPR programs as well as on the National Geographic Television Network.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2006

    novel approach to transmigration

    This book is an important contribution to literature on diaspora, transmigration, gender issues, ethnicity, street vendors and global identity. This novel, written by an anthropologist, is a captivating story of several 'Jaguars' living in the New York City and vicinity. The story focuses on a specific couple, struggling with their marriag he is in New York, afraid to go home without losing his best hope of financial success, while she is back in Niger trying to cope with being the dutiful daughter-in-law to ungrateful inlaws. Great insights about how they perceive their roles and responsibilites in a trans-global relationship, their decision process for trying to move forward while feeling 'stuck' because of duty, loyalty, and love (not in any order). Interesting plot turns reveal how others perceive them in their liminal context.

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