Whiteman

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Overview

Whiteman is an extraordinary debut novel about a maverick American relief worker deep in the West African bush. When his funding is cut off, Jack Diaz refuses to leave his post, a Muslim village in the Ivory Coast where Christians and Muslims are squaring off for war. Against a backdrop of bloody conflict and vibrant African life, Jack and his village guardian, Mamadou, learn that hate knows no color and that true heroism waits for us where we least expect it.

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Whiteman

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Overview

Whiteman is an extraordinary debut novel about a maverick American relief worker deep in the West African bush. When his funding is cut off, Jack Diaz refuses to leave his post, a Muslim village in the Ivory Coast where Christians and Muslims are squaring off for war. Against a backdrop of bloody conflict and vibrant African life, Jack and his village guardian, Mamadou, learn that hate knows no color and that true heroism waits for us where we least expect it.

During lulls in the violence, Jack learns the cycles of Africa-of hunting in the rain forest, cultivating the yam, and navigating the nuances of the language; of witchcraft, storytelling, and chivalry. Despite the omnipresence of AIDS, he courts Djamilla, the stunning Peul girl; meets Mariam, his neighbor's wife, in the darkened forest when the moon is new; and desperately pursues Mazatou, the village flirt. Still, Jack spends many a night alone in his hut, longing for love in a place where his skin color excludes him.

Brimming with dangerous passions, ubiquitous genies, spirited proverbs, and the pressures of life in a time of war, Whiteman is a tale of desire, isolation, humor, action, and fear.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR WHITEMAN

"What makes Whiteman so affecting is D’Souza’s understanding of what it’s like to fall in love with people who will never be like you, with a place that will never be home and with a troubled continent that—despite your best intentions—you can do nothing to save."—PEOPLE (Critic’s Choice)

"Quirky, seductive and funny. The author has acquired the arts of a master storyteller, and each little tale nestled in this novel has an intoxicating, fireside charm."—LAURA MILLER, SALON


Wyatt Mason
… in original, unfussy prose (a group of schoolchildren "sat like falling"; strange birds have calls "like the sound of people laughing at a party"), "Whiteman" suggests, with force and restraint, why a young American serving abroad, however haplessly, might not relish the prospect of having to return home. "The thought of America," Jack confesses, "hung before me like a cliff."
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
A young American aid worker doing a three-year stint in a rural West African village works through his dislocation, cultural and otherwise, in D'Souza's promising debut. Working for Potable Water International, Jack Diaz-known to the locals by the Islamicized name Diomond Adama as well as the wryly derisive Whiteman-details the pulsing quotidian of Tegeso, an Ivory Coast village in the neglected Muslim north, in a funny, credible first-person voice. With a civil war between Christians and Muslims looming, PWI pulls its people, but Jack stays on without funding or affiliation, working the fields and teaching about preventing AIDS. His cultural reportage is thick ("Because I didn't have a wife or children, I wasn't a real man to the Worodougou, and I took up hunting to compensate for that"), but despite stilted exchanges with locals, the real surprise of the novel is its fearless treatment of Jack's sexual relationships with local women. No matter who he's sleeping with, though, Jack knows his stay in the volatile region is temporary. When the war finally forces Jack to flee, D'Souza (no relation to political pundit Dinesh) skillfully counterpoints Jack's sojourn with his stateside existence, yielding unexpected motivations for Jack's work and his liaisons. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
To read D'Souza's debut novel is to be plunged into the precarious-and authentic-existence of the foreign relief worker. American Jack Diaz is in Ivory Coast to help bring clean drinking water to the people. But in the chaos following September 11, his funding is cut, and instead he insinuates himself into village life, farming a small tract of land and romancing the local women while halfheartedly tackling AIDS education. Jack's adventures as an honored outsider are alternately amusing, sexy, moving, and, when war erupts, frightening. Presented as a series of tales with a mostly shifting cast of characters except for the wonderful Mamadou, Jack's wise best friend who has just the right proverb for every occasion, this novel reads more like a short story collection. While each story is enchanting, the impact doesn't linger, and Jack's development isn't totally satisfying. Still, he's an appealing main character, a wanderer seeking his place in the world, a man most at home in an alien landscape, a volunteer whose major project is himself. Recommended for all public libraries.-Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An exceptional account of West African village life, written with enormous affection and you-are-there immediacy. Jack Diaz is a white Chicagoan in his mid-20s, working in Ivory Coast for an aid organization. After training in Abidjan in the Christian South, he is sent to a village in the exploited Muslim North. Religious tensions will eventually erupt into civil war. In the village, he is assigned a mentor, Mamadou, who will be invaluable in teaching Jack tribal customs (he already has a smattering of their language, Worodougou). Underneath their Muslim veneer, the villagers believe in genies, witchcraft and, above all, the ancestors. Jack earns their respect by farming with them and shooting francolins, crop-destroying wild chickens. D'Souza's work reads like a memoir rather than a novel, but his story needs the freedom of the novel, especially when it comes to sex. "If you don't have sex, you'll get sick," warns Mamadou. The chief offers him a girl but she's in her mid-teens-too young. There's the beautiful Mazatou, but she's a tease. There's the equally beautiful Djamilla, a Peul (nomadic cattle herders). He's granted permission to marry her, but loses his nerve. It's all very tricky. He finds relief with a hooker in Abidjan and is fatalistic about getting AIDS, though later he launches an AIDS education project. The most troubling episode involves another village beauty whose husband lives in Abidjan. They sleep together; the mother-in-law, furious, sets genies on Jack, who practices his own, more powerful magic; the mother-in-law dies. In immersing himself in witchcraft, has Jack become truly African, or is he still a long-stay tourist? The war begins. Jack and his fellow aidworkers experience a dangerous trip to the relative safety of Abidjan. Africa may be ultimately unknowable for the author, but this nonfiction novel, his debut, represents a thrilling partial discovery.
Entertainment Weekly
"[Whiteman] is a subtle but damning response to the assumption that Western aid is all-benevolent."
Los Angeles Times Book Review
"The book has a very real, immediate, nonfiction feel to it."
New York Times Book Review
"It's the quality of vision that makes D'Souza's novel notable and, for a first book, unusual."
Salon
"Quirky, funny, and seductive... capture[s] a shard of the host country in a way that NGO novels rarely do."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156032490
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/9/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Tony D’Souza is the author of three novels, including the award-winning Whiteman. He has contributed to The New Yorker, Playboy, Esquire, Outside, Salon, Granta, McSweeney’s, O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Fantasy, and elsewhere. A recipient of the Sue Kaufman Prize, Florida Gold and Silver Medals for fiction, and fellowships from the Guggenheim and the NEA, Tony was nominated for a National Magazine Award for coverage of Nicaragua’s Eric Volz murder trial and spent three years in Africa with the Peace Corps.

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Read an Excerpt



Whiteman




By D'Souza, Tony


Harvest Books



Copyright © 2007

D'Souza, Tony

All right reserved.


ISBN: 015603249X



Africa ­Unchained
 
           At nine a.m., the doorbell rang. I couldn't see who it was because of the high wall surrounding the house, but after a moment's debate whether I shouldn't just ignore it, I picked up the crowbar we'd been keeping handy and started across the courtyard to the security door. I'd talked with the girls about getting a gun in the black market, but we hadn't gone that far yet. "Jack's a man. He'll protect us," Samantha had winked and said, and I'd shaken my head and told them, "Then consider yourselves dead already." Because while I didn't like to think of myself as a coward, my first impulse on hearing gunfire was to hit the floor and crawl under something. At the door, I raised the crowbar like a baseball bat. I'd never swung a weapon at anyone, didn't know if I could now, but I held it like that anyway. "C'est qui?" I shouted, trying to sound larger and more menacing than I really ­was.
 
           "Adama, restes tranquille," a woman's voice called to me. "C'est Méité Fanta, ta voisine."
 
           I quickly turned the lock and pushed open the door onto Ama Méité, a weathered old woman with a steel tub on her head, theheads of the fish in it peeking down at us like ­children eavesdropping on adults. She also had a stick poking out of the corner of her mouth, an extra­-­large toothpick. Ama Méité was grandmother to the rabble of naked children who played dust­-­raising ragball on our street in Séguéla, hollering all day like they owned the place, which they did, and who had brought us water, bucket­-­by­-­paid­-­for­-­bucket, from their well during the last coup when the water and electricity had been cut in the city. Méité's face did not change when she saw the crowbar in my hand. She went on chewing her stick, the local version of a toothbrush, as though it were a carrot, or a tasty piece of licorice. But I knew from experience that it wasn't tasty at all, that it was infused with a bitter oil as succulent as varnish. People were like that ­here.
 
           We quickly went through the morning salutations in Worodougou, a cultural requirement you couldn't ignore in the biggest of rushes, even if, say, you felt like the world was ­ending.
 
           "Manisogoma," I said, lowering my eyes in respect. 'Good morning, respected ­mother.'
 
           "Say va! Ah see la," Ama Méité said like shouting, which was how it was done. 'Thank you, respected sir. Did the night pass ­well?'
 
           "Em'ba, Ama," I said. 'Thank you, respected mother, ­yes.'
ONT-FAMILY: Times; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt" 
           "Allah bis sonya!" 'God bless your ­morning.'
 
           "Amina, Ma." 'Amen, ­Mother.'
 
           "Allah kenna ahdi." 'God grant you beautiful ­health.'
 
           "Amina, Ma," I said, touching my hand to my forehead as if bowing in thanks and deference to her ­benedictions.
 
           "Allah ee balo," she said. 'God grant you a wonderful ­youth.'
 
           "Amina, Ma."
 
           "Allah bato luma." 'God nourish your home and ­family.'
 
           "Amina, Ma."
 
           "Allah bo numa." 'God bless all that you ­do.'
 
           "Amina, Ma," I said louder than before, indicating in their way that I'd received all the benedictions I could bear. "Iniché, iniché. Allah ee braghee." 'Amen, Mother. Thank you, thank you. God bless you in thanks for your benedictions over ­me.'
 
           "Amina, Va!" 'Amen, ­sir.'
 
le="mso-tab-count: 1"           "Allah den balo, Ma." 'God bless and protect your children, ­Mother.'
 
           "Amina, Va!"
 
           "Allah kenna ahdi." 'God grant you beautiful ­health.'
 
           "Amina, Va!"
 
           "Allah sosay djanna." 'God grant you long ­life.'
 
           "Amina, Va!"
 
           "Allah bis sonya." 'God bless your ­morning.'
 
           "Amina, Va! Iniché. Adama Diomandé." 'Amen and thank you, respected Adama ­Diomandé.'
 
           Then we were done with that and Ama Méité said to me, "Bon," flatly in French because we could now get on with our lives. I could already feel the sweat starting to stand out on my forehead, and the fish in the tub on Méité's head seemed to me to be wilting in the sun now, hanging over the rim like the melting watches in the Dalí painting. She rolled her eyes from the weight of the load and planted her hands on her hips, which were wrapped in a wildly colored bolt of cloth depicting cellular phones. The cloth was a pagne celebrating the arrival of Nokia to our stretch of West Africa two weeks ago, and many women in Séguéla were wearing them, were tying their infants snugly onto their backs with them. Coups and guinea worm and female circumcision and HIV and mass graves in Abidjan full of the Muslim north's political youth and the women had turned traditional dances all night around bonfires to celebrate the arrival of the cell phone. This was what West Africa was about: priorities. "So you already know about the coup," Ama Méité chewed on her bitter stick and ­said.
 
           "Know about the coup?" I said. "All I know is that I got up this morning and turned on the radio and there wasn't any ­radio."
class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: 24.0pt" 
           "Oui," she said, "so you know about the coup. But what are you going to do with that stick? When the bandits come, they will have guns. Therefore, you should buy a gun. A rich man like you, Adama, with so many wives--"
 
           "They're not my wives!" I started, like a thousand times before. "They're my colleagues. I work with them. Nothing ­else."
 
           "If they're not your wives, oh, then why won't you marry my daughter Nochia, oh?" she sang in French to embarrass me. "She knows how to cook and likes to work in the fields. If you know how to do anything, she'll give you many healthy children, maybe even twins. And even if you don't know how to do those things, she will teach you. Like that you will be rich in America and make your mother proud. Then you will bring us health and happiness and, of course, many gifts, oh, when you come and visit. Anyway," she said, spitting wads of mulled wood on the ground between us like hay, "you should buy a gun. My son knows a man who can sell you a strong gun washed with good ­magic."
 
           "We are a humanitarian organization, Ama," I said lamely. "We don't believe in ­guns."
 
           And she said, "In all the films from America, all is guns. So don't tell me! What I've come to say is this: Don't open the door today, Adama Diomandé. There are many looters and bandits. They will come and rob you. Everybody knows whites live in this house. And who knows what riches you have in there, anyway? So do not open the door. Now I have to go to market and sell these fish. They don't care if there's a coup or not. All they care is that they want to stink ­soon."
 
           "Thank you, Ama," I said as she turned to walk back to her compound, where the children were kicking a soccer ball that was really half of a coconut shell, were playing hopscotch in the dirt and clapping and singing like it was the best day ever, like always. She waved her hand back at me and said, "You whites are bizarre, oh! Going to chase away bandits with a stick, ­Allah!"
 
I could not remember if this was the third coup or the fourth in the two months since I'd arrived up north, and anyway, talk of coups was a very complex thing because you had bloody coups and bloodless coups and attempted coups and aborted coups and averted coups and rumored coups and the coups that happen that nobody knows about except you go to the post office one day to mail a letter to your retired mother in Florida to say everything's getting all blown out of proportion in the Western media and there's a new general­-­president smiling at you from the stamp like somebody who's gotten away with something big, and also there were the couvre­-­feus, which is pronounced somewhat like "coup" but means you can't go out at night or you'll be shot, which should not be confused with coups de grâce, which is how chickens were killed for dinner. All of this is to say that every three weeks the country was erupting into general mayhem from the capital to Korhogo, producing very little change except for a mounting body count and the ulcers growing in my stomach. Oh yes, there was also the matter of a few towns in the far north like Kong and Tengréla that had declared themselves independent states and were being deprived of all services by Abidjan in an apparent attempt to siege them into submission. There was also the small matter of the new guns the traditional hunters and witch doctors were showing off in the villages, shiny AKs that they said came from Mecca, and other small matters such as the Christian military kicking in people's doors like storm troopers and beating old women, and the list could go on for a very long time, but after I locked the door behind Ama Méité, I went inside to call the Potable Water ­International office in Abidjan--my organization--for an update and found that the line had been cut, which wasn't reassuring. Then I sat on the couch and fiddled with the shortwave's antenna. Just as I was able--with many strange maneuvers of my arms like a semaphore--to draw in the BBC, where the female announcer was calmly saying in her lovely British voice, ". . . rebel forces in the Ivory Coast . . . ," all the power was cut and then I was suddenly very alone in a dark and quiet house in what the U.S. embassy security officer had referred to just weeks before as "the most unstable city in the country." I switched the shortwave over to its batteries. Of course nothing happened. I turned the radio over. The cover to the battery compartment was missing, and so were the batteries. One of the girls knew where they were no doubt, as one of them was out in the bush right now, humming softly as she dug a new latrine, working to the music playing from her battery­-­powered ­Walkman.

Copyright 2006 by Tony D'Souza
 
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be ­reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or ­mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and ­retrieval
system, without permission in writing from the ­publisher.
 
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the ­work
should be mailed to the following address: Permissions ­Department,
Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887­-­6777.

Continues...




Excerpted from Whiteman
by D'Souza, Tony
Copyright © 2007 by D'Souza, Tony.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2006

    language and style are refreshing

    D'Souza has revealed himself as a poetic writer. He has a way with the language that captures your interest from the first to the last page.

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    Posted April 29, 2010

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    Posted September 1, 2010

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