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Black Mischief Paperback – August 15, 2002
2016 Book Awards
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Top Customer Reviews
In the island nation of Azania, just off the coast of East Africa, Oxford-educated Emperor Seth attempts to force his backward, war-torn nation to emulate the West. Help arrives in the form of a British ne'er-do-well, Basil Seal, "a man of progress and culture" as Seth styles him. This of course means Seal is trouble as well.
As I read deeper into "Black Mischief", I was struck by two things. One was how easily it flowed, not only with Waugh's always elegant prose but the plot itself. Waugh isn't ordinarily so clean a scenarist. The other was how like Joseph Conrad's "Nostromo" this is, making the same points about First World meeting Third World. Except where "Nostromo" was clumsy and dry, Waugh sells his message with wit and surreal humor.
He even goes to the trouble of mapping out Azania, which helps a lot given it is a nation entirely of Waugh's own imagining. As the characters cross its expanse, I found myself referring back to the map in front and enjoying how well it matched up with the narrative.
When I picked up "Black Mischief", I was concerned about the obvious racial aspects. Waugh was capable of writing hurtful things about blacks as well as other groups Waugh experienced from a distance. "Remote People," published in 1931 just one year before "Black Mischief", presents Africans in the role of bloody-minded savages.
Well, there are plenty of savages in "Black Mischief", too, only most of the ones we get to know best and like least are European.Read more ›
In fact, this is a very funny novel that lets loose with some barbs that can still find their way home in the twenty-first century. His portrayal of the useless English envoy and his family is right on target as an example of the reward-over-substance political appointment, played alongside the classic scheming French envoy. Even more humorous is the portrayal of Dame Mildred and Miss Tin as the "PETA"-types among the cannibals. But the novel really moves with Basil Seal, whose self-serving attempts to help Emperor Seth Westernize Azania seem like the right thing to do but lead to disaster after disaster. Seal is great as the truly intelligent guy who can't help but do stupid things.
And these are just a few examples on top of a host of funny minor characters--a gone-native English general with his native wife, native royalty, ridiculous prelates and abbots, and an Indian who always manages to survive and make a profit. They deal with such issues as daily executions, making the single train line run, family planning among the natives, and managing to survive the revolts and revolutions. If taken in the right spirit, this is an enjoyable Waugh classic.
I found it endlessly witty, and if asked what it satirizes, I'd say it's the idea of British Imperialism, of which many earnest novels were being written in his day. At the same time he wrote fiction, he was writing travel books. I've just finished "Labels" (the British title), which is one, but there was another, called "Remote People" which he wrote around the same time, and which I've not read. but which, I think, provides some of the regional background or local color for this novel. Also, there are bits in the Letters I recognize as turning up in this novel.
There is a corollary to the incredibly idiotic post-modern attempt to read everything backwards so as to deconstruct it in the fact that when Waugh's most famous novel, "Brideshead Revisited" was published, it was dismissed as religious propaganda, which shows how virulently anti-Catholic England in many ways still was. No one reads it that way now.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Readers should be warned that this colonialist novel is very politically incorrect. Racism, sexism, etc. It does treated everybody badly - fair? Read morePublished 3 months ago by bate
Evelyn Waugh was a nasty piece of work, if I'm to go by what I read about him. Still, character flaws never prevented anyone from becoming a good writer. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Atty Tude
Here's the deal; Waugh is a sharp wit whose satire is both funny and, at times, biting. The subject of colonial influence in a fictional black African nation is bound to produce... Read morePublished 16 months ago by Adam Austin
I just gave a five-star review for Waugh's war trilogy. This is tedious. . .Published 16 months ago by Clarity Driven
Black Mischief is a ruthlessly witty sendup of modernization, colonization, uncivilized culture, civilized culture, and almost everything else. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Sean Johnson
I'm afraid I just didn't get on with this book. Waugh tells the story of British ex-patriates living in a fictitious African country through snippets of dialogue, which are witty... Read morePublished 22 months ago by Wilkinson65