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The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi: A Novel Paperback – June 11, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dutch singer/actor Japin's debut draws on extraordinary real-life material: in 1837 two young Ashanti princes, Kwasi and Kwame, were taken to Holland, ostensibly to receive a European education, but in fact as peons in a cynical exchange between the Ashanti king (Kwame's father) and the still active slave traders. Kwasi tells the strange story as a gentle, peevish old man living on a failed coffee plantation in Java at the turn of the century. He remembers his jungle boyhood with cousin Kwame, the coming of the Dutch traders and his and Kwame's early years as curiosities at a Dutch school. Later embraced by the royal court, the two went on to college and became offbeat figures in Dutch society, struggling to persuade themselves that they had really found a new life. Kwasi, the more adaptable, cherished a passion for a Dutch princess until she married elsewhere for convenience. Kwame, deeply uneasy at his equivocal role, joined the army and was posted back to Africa where, eventually realizing that he was a mere plaything of the Dutch, he killed himself. Only toward the end of his life is Kwasi aware that he, too, has lived in self-deception. Japin tells the tale with imaginative empathy and, in the case of Kwame, truly powerful poetic re-creation. However, his incorporation of text from authentic 19th-century documents is disconcerting. This is an unusual story that could appeal to an appetite for the odd corners of history, but perhaps is too close to history to please the lovers of literary fiction who would at first seem to be its natural readers. (Nov. 21)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Japin's beautifully written debut novel is based on the true story of two West African princes, Kwasi and Kwame, who are sent by the king of Ashanti (modern-day Ghana) to study in Holland in the 1830s. In Holland, they attend a private boarding school, where Kwasi excels at his studies and Kwame at art. Neither boy fits in; they are ridiculed by some and shunned by others. Kwame never ceases to long for the day he can return home to Africa, whereas Kwasi embraces the new culture and tries to blend in as much as possible. The boys' different reactions to Dutch culture drive a wedge between them, and they choose separate paths. As Kwame tries to return home, Kwasi accepts a government post, only to encounter prejudice from every side. Both face harsh disappointments: Kwame from the home he thought would not forsake him, and Kwasi from the realization that the abandonment of his native culture has harmed him most of all. Quietly moving, Japin's novel is a powerful study of displacement and disillusionment. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 11, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375718893
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375718892
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #687,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A well researched mid 19th century histrory of two Ghanian Princes who are sent to be educated in Holland only to encounter the depths of prejudice, a prejudice which is unspoken but a governing fact. Truly accepted by a few, a novelty for many, with no one willing to acknowledge the truth. It is a miracle that today Kwashi Boachi has decendants who can know the story of their forebearer and be proud of him as a caring, sensive human being. While the early part of the book was a bit slow, I found myself wanting to learn the story of the cousins lives and the truths these lives speak to us.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Basil Gangliaa on March 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Japin has succeeded on all fronts with a thorough and powerful chronicle as he assumes the voice of Kwasi Boachi, an Ashanti prince who embodies mockery for the sake and hope of belonging.
The world of Kwasi Boachi, though set in an era apart, stays true to the current reality of Black existence worldwide. You may be a Black prince. You may be a Black slave. At either extreme, you, especially as a Black man, remain far below the worthiness of simple human consideration, and as such can without conflict be at once Prince Nobody and Slave Nobody. Of course, this worldview of Blacks, while tightly upholstered, does not represent an uninterrupted fabric. No man-made construction could be so perfect neither in its evil nor in its goodness. There are right-thinking men and women of all colors who do not subscribe to lies and low thoughts on this matter.
Nevertheless, in the Black case, the fabric retains an amazing consistency under its disguise as an end unto itself. However, the real game is and has always been power and money, not color. Race, however, is probably the most convenient distraction used to establish a hierarchy complete with the areas of high and low pressure necessary for fierce winds to blow. How powerful and perceptive the author's summary in opening the book: Color is not something one has, color is bestowed on one by others.
Kwasi Boachi and his friend Kwame were, in different ways, blind to this fact. Kwasi makes the fatal mistake of attempting to prove his humanity to people who are impervious to believing or acknowledging it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 29, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It sounds like a fairy tale. Two Ashanti Princes, ten-year-old boys, sent by their king in the 19th-century to be educated in Holland at the expense of the Dutch government. Installed in a boarding school in Delft, both progress with astonishing speed in their lessons, and both become frequent guests at court, becoming special friends with the young princess Sophie, and gaining access to several of the royal courts in Europe. Hans Christian Andersen even appears himself as one of the more sympathetic fellow guests at some of these occasions.

But the story is a true one. Kwasi Boachi, the son of the Asantehene (or king) of the Ashanti was indeed sent to Holland in 1837 together with his cousin Kwame Poku who, because of the laws of matrilinear succession, was actually the heir to the throne. The Dutch had important commercial interests in the Gold Coast, seeking not only natural resources but also a supply of indentured "volunteers" to replace the now-prohibited slave trade. Although couched as a goodwill gesture, the removal of the two young princes also provided the Dutch crown with a lever to ensure the continued collaboration of the Ashanti king. The irony is that, while being feted as curiosities in the manner of "noble savages," the princes were also subject to all sorts of discrimination from their schoolmates and ultimately from the state itself, who could not permit that a person of darker complexion could achieve such success as might call into question the inherent superiority of the white race; neither of them prospered once they reached adulthood.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Warren on August 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
Other reviews here outline the story, but I must add that this is one of the most well-written and insightful books I have read in recent years....especially insightful on the subject of hidden, pervasive and institutionalized racism and the sense of isolation and "separation" that it produces. Some draw strength from it and some are crushed by it; some experience both.

absolutely amazing...so well written and full of insights into the human condition. In fact, about a third of the way through I was motivated to start turning down various pages and marking passages that I found particularly insightful. It is a brilliant insight and depiction of the subtle isolation of those of us who are "different" or unique from the mainstream of our surroundings...plus the secret power of government and others on our lives as well as the subtle influence of racism. I can see why Arthur Japin is considered one of Holland's great modern-day writers....he puts so much insight into his novel. It's the best-written book I've read in many years. I intend to recommend it to many others.
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