Thursday, December 8, 2011

'Exile' by Jakob Ejersbo

"It has to be deeper, otherwise the dogs will get her," Dad says. Doesn't he realize they already have me?

'Exile' was a pure impulse buy for me. I think it attracted my attention simply by its author having a Scandinavian name (I suppose I assumed he might be some new crime fiction writer) and then by having the outline of Africa on its cover. When I saw the backpage blurb about it being part of a trilogy of books about growing up as an ex-pat in Tanzania I was sold, having lived there for three years when I was a kid.

The narrator of this book is Samantha, an endearingly fucked-up teenager who deals with neglectful, dysfunctional parents, a sister growing up and getting on with life faster than her, and life in the pressure-cooker of an international boarding school by smoking and getting shit-faced on booze like konyagi - a rough Tanzanian spirit, and whatever drugs she can lay her hands on. She also seeks out male attention to a pathological degree, and it is really her frequent and misguided dalliances with numerous boys and men that the book revolves around.

Indeed, there are so many men in Samantha's life that it can be hard working keeping tracking of who's who. It seemed a strange move on the author's part until I learned that 'Revolution' - the second part of the trilogy, not due to be published in English until next year - is a collection of short stories featuring characters who play bit-parts in Samantha's life. Having such a such an extensive and eclectic cast presumably allowed Ejersbo a broader canvas to paint with.

It is a book that reeks of urgency, in all kinds of ways.There is a rawness and a panic to nearly all of Samantha's actions, and there is a scathing honesty and simplicity to the words that describe them. Ejersbo -  a Danish writer whose depiction of a Tanzania as rife with poverty and corruption as it was in my day, as it is today, was informed by his own time living there - died of cancer in 2008 and seems to have spent his final months ensuring his trilogy was completed before he succumbed to the disease. If the other parts of the trilogy are as compelling and affecting as this one then he'll have left a notable legacy.