John Updike – A remembrance

I never met John Updike, except in print.
In the February 5, 1996 editions of The New Yorker, he wrote this of my work:
“Last summer the dying Congolese novelist, playwright and poet told the Times correspondent, Howard French, “Africa is the only continent left that has not found its way. We have this incredible wealth, of resources and spirit, but outsiders like France are just robbing us, while blessing our dictators.”
Tansi made this statement in the remote village of Foufoundou, in his native African state of Congo, where he had found remission from the symptoms of aids by way of mixture of herbal medicines and incantations that mixed “African traditional healing and Christian evangelism.” Tansi told his interviewer, “I had been to hospitals in Brazzaville and Paris, but they had been unable to do anything for me. It wasn’t until I came here, following the voice of a prophet that my condition really began to change. I should have come long ago.” But his native herbal concoctions had not helped Tansi’s wife, Pierrette, who, lying emaciated and feeble on a mat, claimed they had made her mouth so sore that she could eat nothing but oranges. Two weeks later, both she and Tansi were dead.”
He was 47 and widely considered the leading writer of Central Africa. His miserable end betokens the misery of Africa, a continent beset by AIDS, famine, poverty, corruption, tyranny and genocidal massacre…” (the article continues at some length.)
There was an honor, naturally, in having one’s work mentioned by Updike. But there was something more, too, an odd coming together in this experience of two of the writers on Africa whose fiction had most affected me: Updike and Tansi. More about Tansi can be found on this site. As for Updike, his novel, The Coup, is not particularly well appreciated, but its a jewel of perception, of wicked humor and of observation — both of an imagined Africa, if that’s possible, and of the United States, whose provincialism, tawdriness and vacuous commercialism, the author lampoons without mercy.
Both of the offerings below come most highly recommended.

1 thought on “John Updike – A remembrance”

  1. In my (admittedly totally subjective) estimation Updike by this point was consciously, carefully including signs and signage in the Rabbit saga, and was probably already, by the time he finished the first book in the series, planning for Angstrom to be joining his father at the printing plant in the second, where their appearances begin to take on something of a different character.

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