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Book Review: O, Africa! by Andrew Lewis Conn (2/5). It wasn’t for me, unfortunately.

8 Jul

A while ago, I cut myself from registering for First Reads. I decided I had enough books to read that I didn’t need to get another. But then, of course, I had some spare time at work and decided to browse. What’s the harm, right? Well, let me tell you because I won one. It’s set in the late 1920s and if you know me, you know I’m a sucker for anything 20s. The worst part was that I really, really couldn’t get into it. I just couldn’t. I’ll elaborate later.

I received this book for free on Goodreads in exchange for a fair review.

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

O, Africa! by Andre Lewis Conn

Brothers Micah and Izzy Grand are having the time of their lives making movies in the late 1920s. Their comedies have audiences in stitches and their star actor doesn’t seem to be fading any time soon. However, their production company as a whole is on its way down. Their boss has an idea; go to Africa and get stock footage which they can sell to other companies and while they’re there, film another movie. Two birds with one stone, right? Well, in theory anyway.

In reality, Micah is in debt to a gangster who’s convinced him to pay off his debt by filming a second movie during their time in the DR Congo (Belgian Congo in the 20s). The natives of the village the boys visit are used as extras in their film and Izzy grows close to the prince.  [SPOILER ALERT!] In a twist, the prince kills one of the crew members and the team returns to New York with nothing to show. Izzy, distraught over the loss of his lover, returns to Africa, desperate to make things right and restore order to the village. Micah must traipse across the ocean after his brother, squandering the last dollars he has in hopes of helping his brother home.

This book really didn’t do it for me. I wasn’t sure how big of a release it would entail but I saw the book on the shelves of Barnes and Nobel last week so Conn must have made bank on this one. I didn’t find the humor that funny and it seemed a bit forced. I liked the plot for the first half, but the second half fell apart for me. Izzy was the only character I liked and he became my least favorite character: someone I couldn’t relate to. By the end, I liked Micah only because he was the only character who hadn’t gone off the deep end. Well, maybe Rose, Micah’s mistress, but she still didn’t do it for me.

I don’t think the characters were meant to be believable. As part of the Roaring Twenties, everyone was bigger than life and that goes double for the movie business. People had the disposable income to spend on movies and the men in the field were taking it to the bank. I think Micah ended up being the most believable throughout. At first, my attraction to Izzy was that I could relate to him because he was logical and even-headed. Then he went crazy at the end and I couldn’t figure out why. The secondary characters were a little easier to believe; Henry the silent film star and Rose, Micah’s black mistress (talk about a scandal in the 20s!).

If forced to pick, I’d say Rose ended up being my favorite of these two. I don’t agree with her morally, (having a relationship with a married man when she herself is married) but she was looking out for herself. When she wanted a baby to take care of, she knew where to go. When she needed protection, she had her brother to turn to and knew where to find a husband who would take care of her. She saw the bright and flashy life that Micah had and knew she wanted something less gaudy. She had an even head on her shoulders.

Andrew Lewis Conn. Image from

Andrew Lewis Conn. Image from

I related to Micah at the end. He knew he had to throw away his last dollars to go see his brother and bring him home. This is a very raw human emotion of love and family ties and it resonated with me on a primitive level. If my brother were in trouble, I would want to go help him, even if he was in primitive Africa. To me, this was the most ‘real’ thing Micah did.

My favorite part of the book was the opening scenes where the brothers are filming a movie with Henry Till and Babe Ruth. It was great to see a historical figure as memorable as Ruth make an appearance in the book. The writer pulled in some other well-known figures of the day later in, Charlie Chaplin being the one I remember. It helped root the book in the 20s.

Izzy’s return to Africa was my least favorite part. The things he was doing over there were too much for me to process: talking to a dead body, making movies out of clips of the dead king, not eating, living in a junk field. It was too much. I thought Izzy was a well-developed character until this point. I wish the book had ended sooner so I didn’t have to see him like that.

I felt a lot of the book was about the fragility of man. Micah’s comfortable life in New York is fragile and his relationships came to a head many times in the book. Izzy’s sanity is fragile and he deteriorates quickly. The villagers are easily influenced by their contact with the Western film-makers and it skewed their perception of reality. Ultimately there was a way to put each of these back together, but it was a lot of work and effort by all those involved.

Writer’s Takeaway: Oh boy. I think my lesson from this book was about how to incorporate humor into my work. I like when there is one character that can make me laugh consistently or when appropriate, but I felt Conn was using all of his characters as comic relief all too frequently and not in the appropriate times. It made all the characters seem like jokes and belittled their problems.

Not my favorite. 2 out of 5 stars.

This book fulfills ‘Foreign Country: DR Congo’ for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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