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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi

by
Arthur Japin


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi



Title: The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi
Author: Arthur Japin
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997 (Eng. 2000)
Length: 381 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi - US
The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi - UK
The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi - Canada
Le Noir au coeur blanc - France
Der Schwarze mit dem weißen Herzen - Deutschland
  • Dutch title: De zwarte met het witte hart
  • Translated by Ina Rilke

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fascinating cross-cultural historical story

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 1/4/2000 Thomas Leuchtenmüller
The NY Times Book Rev. . 10/12/2000 Michael Pye
San Francisco Chronicle . 21/1/2001 Heidi Benson
TLS . 18/8/2000 Paul Binding
Die Welt . 13/11/1999 Alexander von Bormann


  Review Consensus:

  Impressive

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi, Arthur Japin's rich and risky first novel, is a telling fragment from the saga of displacement that Europe's empires imposed on other peoples' bodies and souls. (...) A less exact and intelligent writer might have made a sermon out of these facts and traded on our smug assumption that somehow our racism is cleaner than that of our grandfathers. (...) Sometimes, for all his prodigious energy, Japin does falter. He can be a bit too precise for his own devices, as when he indulges himself with a framing structure that calls for a big, fat revelation at the end -- but on the last pages delivers only a pedantic proof of the racism that has already been pinned down so exactly, detail by detail. (....) But these are petty objections to a deeply humane book about a spectacularly exotic subject. It has a spaciousness and stamina, and an unforced sense of history, that nowadays are almost as unusual as Kwasi Boachi himself." - Michael Pye, The New York Times Book Review

  • "If some scenes in the book are clumsily realized -- and one epistolary chapter fills in historical holes a bit awkwardly -- insight abounds throughout. Particularly well-drawn is the contrast between the visual worlds of Holland and Africa (.....) The book deftly skirts linear time, in chapters that avoid chronology for the larger purpose of carving out meaning. As if mimicking Andersen's remark, a carefully choreographed accumulation of fact conspires to invent the truth. (...) This is a true story, fully and humanly imagined, and that is the measure of Japin's accomplishment." - Heidi Benson, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boache works on us as novel, though it makes use of certain documentary devices, letters, journals, etc. There is no conflict here; the diary Kwame sends Kwasi in the days before his suicide is among the book's finest achievements. The whole is as seamless in its artistry as it is moving in its emotional investigations." - Paul Binding, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Der Autor hat für diesen Roman viele Recherchen angestellt, das Material scheint großteils authentisch zu sein. Dennoch ist es ein Roman, der seine eigenen Absichten verfolgt. Zuallererst zeigt er die Schwierigkeiten für jedes Zeitalter und für jede Kultur, mit dem anderen umzugehen. Kwasi geht den Weg der Anpassung, er lernt und studiert, wird Ingenieur. Doch das hilft ihm auch nicht weiter. (...) Arthur Japin greift voll in die Tasten, zeigt sich als virtuoser Erzähler. Aber es ist auch ein farbenprächtiger Stoff !" - Alexander von Bormann, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi is based on historical fact, the story of a boy sent, with his cousin, from their Ashanti homeland in West Africa to the Netherlands in the early 19th century and chronicling his experiences as a 'black man with a white heart' (as the Dutch title also has it). Kwasi and his cousin Kwame take two different approaches to being strangers in this strange world: Kwasi tries to blend in, Kwame chooses to stand out Neither is particularly successful, and both find, in different ways, that you can't go home again.
       It is their colour that makes them stand out most obviously, though in their youth they didn't even notice that this was in any way an attribute of any significance. The book begins with Kwasi looking back over his life near the end of it in 1900, summing up:

     The first ten years of my life I was not black. I was in many ways different from those around me, but not darker. That much I know. Then came the day when I became aware that my colour had deepened. Later, once I was black, I paled again.
       Though Kwasi is very successful at the school he is enrolled at, he remains an exotic specimen for the Dutch. Much as he tries to become part of that world, and one of them, his colour remains an absolute barrier (and though he (and the reader) always sense this, he gets a painful confirmation of this near the end of the novel).
       The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi is full of arresting images and encounters, set in West Africa, Holland, and Java (which is where Kwasi winds up). Japin captures Kwasi's attempts (and will) to fit in well, as well as much of the strangeness that the boy is confronted with when he first moves to the Netherlands and begins attending school. The sense of separateness, of not belonging and of missing everything that is 'home' (family and everything else) is well-conveyed; among the many haunting scenes is one in which Kwasi and Kwame see off the portrait that has been painted of them, a two-dimensional Dutch rendition being sent to their family in Africa (a painting which turns up later in the novel, too).
       Kwasi does find some friendship, notably from Princess Sophie, but there is no such thing as an easy relationship for him (and nobility has its own issues, too). His willingness to 'become one of them', a black man with a white heart, is not enough to lead to acceptance. He remains the frustrated outsider. yet his cousin Kwame's fate is no less cruel.
       An effective novel, with some very strong (if occasionally theatrical) passages, and a fascinating story.

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Links:

The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi: Reviews: Arthur Japin: Other books by Arthur Japin under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Arthur Japin was born in 1956.

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© 2007-2009 the complete review

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