Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Whiteman.
Tony D’Souza’s Whiteman isn’t so much a novel as a series of interconnected short stories about a relief worker named Jack Diaz and his time spent working in an African village. There is an overarching story – financial restrictions leave Jack unable to give any real help to the villagers, so he basically learns their ways and becomes one of them as civil war looms – but, mostly, D’Souza works in vignettes.
is the story of Jack’s liaison with the town dish, Mazatou; the tale of his relationship with a girl from a neighboring tribe; his friendship with a troubled Chinese relief work; his time spent teaching in a school, etc. Through it all, Jack – called “Adama” or Whiteman by the villagers – slowly learns to understand another culture.
The book condescends to neither the protagonist nor the African characters. That
is refreshing, as books about culture clashes often choose sides. But this isn’t so much a story of culture classes
as of culture melding, even during tough times. That’s particularly evident in Jack’s growing friendship with his assigned village guardian, Mamadou. At first, the relationship between the two men is tentative, but eventually they grow attached to another.
The bond is moving, but subtle.
That tone also describes the whole book. It is sad, scary and funny, but it doesn’t beat you over the head. Whiteman is absorbing. It may just be a series of tales, but they’re always interesting and the characters are always worth spending time with.