Thursday, October 2, 2014

O, Africa! by Andrew Lewis Conn

The year is 1928, and the Grand brothers are at the peak of their movie-making careers in silent films, although there is trouble on the horizon with the ever-increasing number of talkies being made.  Micah is the idea man; extroverted, full of vision, always looking to cut a deal.  He serves as the movies' director.  His twin, Izzy, is his opposite.  He works behind the scenes, cutting and splicing the scenes together to use film to create a story.  He is shy, socially awkward and gay, none of which encourages him to move into the limelight.

Their producer, outside of insisting talkies are just a fad, has other business failings and soon the company is on the verge of collapse.  The producer, Marblestone, has an idea.  He'll send the Grand brothers to Africa to film their latest silent comedy and while they are there, they can shoot film stock he can sell to other companies to avoid bankruptcy.  The brothers aren't interested, but when Micah gets himself into trouble trying to bamboozle a set of Harlem gambling crime lords, they decide maybe Africa is the place to be.

The brothers discover many things about themselves in Africa.  In addition to the silent comedy, they shoot footage of a script given to them by the gamblers that shows the capture and migration of Africans to be slaves in America.  Micah is drawn to the king of the village they go to, and spends his time learning from him.  Izzy falls in love and is loved back, a stupendous discovery that is life-altering.  Their idyll is ended with a tragedy, and the brothers are left to return to America and attempt to pick back up the pieces of their lives.

Andrew Lewis Conn has written a sprawling novel that explores the worlds of silent film-making, the heady, early days of Hollywood, the issues of racial prejudice, the validity of marriage and love relationships, gender inequality, the lives of Africans in the time period and how they differed from African Americans as well as the messages we learn about ourselves while viewing films.  The characters are interesting and unique and the reader turns the last page with much to ponder.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

No comments: