O, Africa! is a fine read for those who enjoy a light story propelled by an author’s adept word play. It compare’s well with one of my favorites, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay. Both are historical fiction, perhaps playing it loose with the history, but tight on the clever wordsmithing.
The story is about making movies in the late ‘20s at the twilight of the silent era. The Grand brothers, Izzy the introspective cameraman, and Micah, the director and rogue, are making a comedy at Coney Island that landed a cameo from non other than Babe Ruth. While there, their studio head Marblestone lets the brothers know the studio is near financial ruin. His solution? Get the boys to deepest darkest Africa to shoot a sampler of natives, animals, and general background to sell to other studios to add authenticity to their movies unattainable in back lots.
As the boys buy into the idea, Micah is visited by Harlem mobsters to whom he owes sizable gambling debts. Just so happens one of these hoods wrote a screenplay called O Africa. The movie idea is a noble attempt to portray the struggle of the black man from Africa slavery to present America. Make this movie in Africa, give the hoods the proceeds from the final product, and the debt is forgiven. That some hoods wrote such a script and make this offer begins the suspension of disbelief you must have for this story. It borders on the surreal as you progress.
Andrew Lewis Conn wrote O, Africa! at a writer’s retreat. Some might say it shows. The metaphors make a stew of many ingredients, not to everyone’s taste. ‘Just how descriptive can I be?’ the author might think while reading the latest rendition to his writing colleagues. No matter. They all made me smile.