The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond is a novel in a novel. Bandele-Thomas tells two connected stories, both taking place in Nigeria. The framing story is told by a first-person narrator, Lakemfa, who is invited to his highschool teacher Maude´s home. This comes as a surprise to Lakemfa, who with his firends disturbs the class and provokes his teacher to outbursts of anger. On one of the narrator´s visits, Maude tells his pupil his life story and shows him his unfinished manuscript of the true story of Bozo, which is called The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond. The story of Bozo makes up the second narrative in this book. In a kind of theatrical five-act-structure, Bandele-Thomas alternates the story of Lakemfa and Maude, and Bozo´s story.
Bozo´s story is, as they say, stranger than fiction. The beginning of Bozo´s life reminded me somewhat of Irving´s Garp; because of complications at Bozo´birth, his mother has to have a hysterectomy. Bozo´s father cannot deal with his wife´s infertility and becomes impotent, for all this he blames his son. Bozo grows up to be a reader, and a devout Christian like his mother, until he comes across metaphysical texts and theological criticism. From then on he argues with his mother about the inconsistencies in the bible and is expelled from school for arguing his religion teacher into a faint. What is waiting for him at home, however, is much worse. I´m not going to give it away, suffice it to say that it is life-changing and Bozo turns to smoking and growing marijuana and transforms into an anarchist with plans to change the world. Bozo´s story is a fantastical and surreal one, telling of violence and corruption and the falling apart of families.
In the end, Maude lets the cat out of the bag about both his and Bozo´s story, and Lakemfa is changed, deciding to stop his petty thievery and start listening to his conscience. It is through an overdose of cheap sensationalism, as a result of Maude´s stories, that Lakemfa seems to be transformed. For the middle part of this book, the stories of Maude and Bozo, are quite sensational and remind of gangster stories and pulp fiction. Maude remains a teacher and his stories can be seen as part of the moral education of Lakemfa.
The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond is Biyi Bandele-Thomas´ first novel, published in 1991. In 1991, Nigeria was far away from being a democratic republic and was still under Babandinga´s military dictatorship, which was known for its corruption. Nigeria´s history is a troubled one, full of violence, unstable governments and military rule.
Bandele-Thomas incorporates his country´s history in his first novel, turning it into an absurd, sensational, ironic story which is inventive, complex and full of dark humour. Despite the overdrawn story, the characters are well-rounded and never become caricatures. It is hard to believe that this is a first novel! I´m happy I signed up for the Nigerian Mini-Challenge, otherwise I might have never heard of or read The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond.
I´ve also got The Icarus Girl out of the library for this challenge, haven´t read any Oyeyemi yet. What other books by Nigerian authors can you recommend?
Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I´ll add a link!