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Paradise Paperback – Import, 1995

4.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Paperback, Import, 1995
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140233113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140233117
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,637,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on July 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
A finalist in 1994 for both the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award, Paradise hides major themes and ideas within the seemingly simple story of Yusuf, a twelve-year-old boy in rural East Africa whose father sells him to a trader to settle a debt. East Africa is in turmoil--on the verge of World War I and the fighting which eventually develops between the Germans in Tanzania and the British in Kenya. Cities are growing, populations are moving, merchants are trading and selling, and colonialists from many countries are vying for influence.

When Yusuf is sold to his "uncle" Aziz, he leaves his remote rural village in what is now Tanzania and joins a trading caravan, traveling to the highlands and eventually on an ill-fated trading safari to the remote interior, discovering whole new worlds as he goes. In eight years of travel, he "progresses" from the countryside to a coastal city, from simple subsistence to the complexities of urban, mercantile life, and from his childish pleasure with a shiny coin to adult love.

As a young child/adolescent, Yusuf is an obvious symbol of Tanzania itself at this early stage in its history. Just as Yusuf must come of age, so also must the country as the various groups contending for influence make choices about how much they will accept, reject, or adapt to outside influences. As Yusuf comes into contact with tribal chieftains, Muslim traders, Indian shopkeepers, and German empire builders, the reader observes the impact of all of these groups both within Yusuf and within the loose, artificial borders of Tanzania.
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Format: Paperback
The author succeeds in conveying a highly poetic vision of Islamic East African Culture, without embellishing it or denying its dark side. A beautiful read. I will certainly read more by this author and search for other Black Africans, moslem or not, who can teach me more about their fascinating culture.
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The best description I can give of this book is that it reads like a translation, even though it isn't. There's a certain flatness and distance to the writing that I associate with poor translations, and this turned out to be a book I had to push myself through. Fortunately, it's short.

Paradise is the story of an adolescent boy, Yusuf, in early 20th century Tanzania. Yusuf's parents sell him to a merchant to satisfy a debt, and he spends the rest of the book working in the merchant's shop and accompanying him on a trading expedition to the interior. And that's the plot in its entirety. Apparently it's supposed to be a parable, mirroring the story of the Prophet Yusuf (the same person as Joseph in Genesis, unless I miss my guess). Unfortunately, the book is written in a plodding style and Yusuf is a non-entity, without personality or goals to keep the reader's interest. I've read interpretations arguing Yusuf was written as a blank state to symbolize Tanzania, which was at a crossroads (we see the beginning of European colonization here, as well as Arab and Indian influences). I suspect that does Tanzania a disservice, however, as no country could possibly be as boring as Yusuf.

I try to give foreign literature the benefit of the doubt, as there's always the possibility that I just lack the cultural background to understand it, and East African readers would doubtless appreciate this more than I do. There is some story here, albeit a plodding one, and there are sparks of character among the secondary cast, particularly the merchants. While there's not an enormous amount of cultural detail, the book did put Tanzania on my mental map in a way that it wasn't before. However, this book completely failed to entertain me, and I found little to appreciate in the writing.
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Format: Paperback
A historical novel set around WWI in East Africa, modern-day Kenya and Tanzania, then the area around Tanganyika and Zanzibar. The Germans are moving in and building railroads. A young man from the interior is sold into bondage by his father to his uncle in payment of a debt. Poverty at home is such that the boy looks forward to a bone in his soup, so moving to the coastal city may be an improvement. The uncle owns a store in a coastal city and is a trader in the days of year-long pack-animal caravans into the heart of Africa (the lakes around where modern-day Congo and Uganda meet).

The story switches from the rural interior to the cosmopolitan urban coastal world. The boy and his uncle are Moslem; the young man who runs the store and takes charge of the boy is Indian; the interior folks have traditional African religions. There is discussion of differences among the various gods. The characters use a variety of languages including Arabic, German and English; the lingua franca is Swahili. There is much discussion of “what do the Europeans want?”

The boy’s trip into the interior is a stand-alone adventure story. In this all-male world of travelers and traders there is much homoerotic talk and some sex. Our narrator, who is a “pretty boy,” is constantly fending off advances from men. The beginning of the end starts when he begins to get involved with his master’s two wives. In the end the defining moment brings our main character back to the beginning: will he accept his serfdom for life or will he revolt? Everyone else accepts their serfdom: even if you are “freed,” where can you go? What would you do?
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