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Black Mischief Paperback – August 15, 2002

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From the Publisher

7 1-hour cassettes --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

About the Author

Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), whom Time called "one of the century's great masters of English prose," wrote several widely acclaimed novels as well as volumes of biography, memoir, travel writing, and journalism. Three of his novels, A Handful of Dust, Scoop, and Brideshead Revisited, were selected by the Modern Library as among the 100 best novels of the twentieth century.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1st edition (August 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316917338
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316917339
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Paul Goring on September 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
I suspect this classic novel is out of print in the US for reasons of misguided political correctness, which is a great shame for this is probably Waugh's finest and funniest novel. (Penguin Books in the UK publish a copy which is available on the www.amazon.co.uk site).
Black, Oxford-educated Seth ("Emperor of Azania,Chief of the Chiefs of Sakuyu, Lord of Wanda and Tyrant of the Seas, Bachelor of the Arts of Oxford University")attempts to reform his backward, corrupt African nation with the aid of an amoral Englishman, Basil Seal. This being Waugh, all ends hilariously tragically. All the usual Waugh-like elements are here: the "disappearing hero" (ie non-active protagonist); the comic but desperately tragic fate of the main characters; the utterly misogynistic & unsympathetic view of all mankind; and all written with his usual, biting, elegant, hilarious satire. This novel is not racist. It may be a trifle politically incorrect to our enlightened generation (political correctness of course meaning that we think it but don't say it)but as with all novels more than 20 years old we have to read it in the light of the attitudes and opinions of the era in which it is written and this novel is a very accurate and funny reflection of the attitudes of the 1930's.
Despite the novel's title, the satire is aimed at all races and ethnic groups, with the white British Legation (portrayed as ignorant, inane, out-of-touch idiots) coming in for the bitterest attacks. Indeed, if our sympathies lie anywhere, it is with the well-meaning, likeable but ultimately ill-advised black emperor, Seth. Waugh was possibly the greatest and sharpest satirist of the 20th Century and this is possibly his greatest and sharpest novel.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By L. Dann on June 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
The only humor today that even comes close to that of Black Mischief, is ironically, that of the outrageous, black comedians- otherwise Waugh rules.
The whole concept of the British in exotic countries is a farce, and when mixed with Waugh's equally lunatic native characters face to face with bizarre and inexplicable Western civilization- whew- anything could and does happen. There are no noble characters, of course, but redeeming fools, which is about as good as one can get in a Wauvian satire. My favorites are the animal rights ladies who come to Africa to see that the natives are treating their livestock well. These ladies, one named Miss Tin, land in the midst of a revolution and have to hit a driver in the head with a brandy bottle to get a ride to the English settlement. They followed a fellow anti-vivesectionist cleric who led the ministry of our `dumb chums.'
There is every kind of European religion stirring up trouble and as usual, the British are completely sequestered amongst themselves preoccupied with their gardens and other habits in blissful and selfish ignorance. The leader of these Imperialists is described as "a self-assured old booby." One of the titled females is named `Lady Everyman.'
The political relevance is so acute that it seems impossible that this was written in 1932. Waugh even seems to have some political consciousness in this book, certainly, he is gentler, on the whole while being enduringly funny. I would definitely place this as my second favorite Waugh. It has a gripping end and is a statement less of bigotry, (of which he probably was one, but who wasn't,) but also of the need to reevaluate what in the name of God all of the colonizing was about.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
Having recently read a review of some of Waugh's works in the Weekly Standard that mentioned that Black Mischief ( affectionately known to afficionados as BM) was out of print, I dug out a mid-1960s double paperback edition from Dell Publishing to find out how racist or politically incorrect it could possibly be. To my delight, the writing is crisp and wicked; I finished it in two days, laughing aloud at least three times.
This was more than 30 years after I originally read this novel. The portrait of colonialism and the folly of progress shines through quite as much as its utter lack of sentimentality about human beings. If anything, I came away this time with more sympathy for Basil Seal, the Emperor Seth and the savage tribesmen as tragic figures doomed in the first two cases by their own delusions of creating the future and in the last case, the lack of understanding of their inevitable doom. Of course this book should be republished and reread.
A few racist words written in the context of the early 1930s should not deter us from enjoying pure misogynist fun.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Slokes VINE VOICE on June 4, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Black Mischief" is not a safe book; it delves into racial and political divides as wide now as then and lets you know its author isn't aboard for any of that 21st-century sensitivity rot. Despite or perhaps because of this it is a good book, perhaps a great book, and worthy of your time.

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.
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