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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The Man Who Came in
from the Back of Beyond


by
'Biyi Bandele-Thomas


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

To purchase The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond



Title: The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond
Author: 'Biyi Bandele-Thomas
Genre: Novel
Written: 1991
Length: 140 pages
Availability: The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond - US
The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond - UK
The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond - Canada
L'homme qui revint du diable - France
Bozo David Hurensohn - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B+ : ambitious and occasionally too far-flung tale, but much of it very solid

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
J. of Modern African Studies . 6/1995 Derek Wright

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The complete review's Review:

       The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond is a curious, ambitious tale of finding one's way in modern Nigeria. It is narrated by a high school student, Lakemfa, who begins by telling of his literature and English language teacher, Maude ("pronounced Mowday", a footnote suggests). "He walked like a wraith, like a man in a nightmare", the book opens.
       Maude is a complicated, intelligent man, pushing the students harder than they are willing to be pushed. He is also a constant target of their jokes and needling. Much to Lakemfa's surprise Maude invites to his home. It is unusual because Maude had apparently never invited anyone into his home, neither fellow teachers nor other students. This was because:

... he felt he was not of their world, nor did he share their ideals. He couldn't emphathize [sic] with them nor relate to them nor be in rapport with them.
       Lakemfa himself isn't sure why Maude invites him, and it is never really explained. The assumption, however, must be that Maude sees in the boy someone who is of his world and who he can relate to -- as is, to some extent, borne out by the novel.
       Lakemfa continues to visit Maude, and he learns the teachers unusual background and history. "The story of your life reads like a book, sir", he tells him, impressed by how Maude reached his current station in life
       Maude also relates how he had been gripped by the story a girlfriend of his had once told him, about a former boyfriend of hers named Bozo. Maude had gone so far as to write a novel fictionalizing Bozo's life. Or parts of a novel: he says he only completed the beginning and the end, "but found it impossible to set down what transpired in the hiatus between this beginning and end, for it was stranger than fiction."
       The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond is told in five parts, a somewhat complicated but effective five-act structure (Bandele-Thomas also dabbles in theatre). After the first, introductory part the second is the beginning section of Maude's novel (which he has given Lakemfa to read) -- unsurprisingly titled The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond. In the third part the book returns to Lakemfa, gripped by what he is reading, and Maude, quickly recounting the "stranger than fiction" missing middle section of the novel. The fourth part consists of the ending of Maude's novel, and the fifth is the somewhat surprising denouement.
       Books within books, fiction claiming truth is stranger than fiction: it's dangerous ground for a novelist to tread on. On the whole, however, Bandele-Thomas handles himself well. It is a compact novel, crammed with layers of life-stories, but he does a fairly neat job of unfolding them, with some unexpected turns mixing fiction and reality.
       Bozo's story is a fantastical one. His birth was a difficult one, and his mother had to have a hysterectomy after it -- which, in turn, led to Bozo's father, Abednego, being unable to have sex with her. Bozo's father never forgave him for this (without explaining the reasons for his antipathy). Bozo's mother is a good and devoted Catholic, and Bozo starts out as one too. Unfortunately his mother unwisely gives him a crate of entirely inappropriate books: "books castigating the Bible as porous fiction conjectured by hallucinationists and deliberate misleaders", for example. And Bozo turns away from the Church.
       Eventually his freethinking gets him expelled from school. He doesn't mind. He looks for truth and inspiration elsewhere -- reading, for example, "Jack Kerouac, priest of the Beat Generation". The troubled family is, however, soon torn apart when Abednego, instead of taking another wife or at least frequenting a brothel (as his wife urged him to do) finds sexual fulfillment closer to home, with catastrophic consequences.
       Left to his own devices Bozo seeks solace in "the holy herb", going to the local pot-dealer (himself quite a character) and turning to marijuana. It is also there that he meets Maria (later to be Maude's girlfriend), who has a sob story of her own to tell.
       Bandele-Thomas loses some hold over his until then fairly controlled fiction when he turns to drugs, as they are presented with a sort of wide-eyed naïveté that stands in contrast to the world wise (and weary) tone found elsewhere. In the third section Maude tells of Bozo's unusual transformation as he becomes a marijuana grower out in the middle of nowhere, only returning to civilization to finally cash in after some two years. His plans then are even wilder, and they do not go exactly as he had hoped, as he is betrayed and fooled.
       Bozo's lot is a difficult, hellish one by the fourth section. Eventually he tries to take one final revenge, going out in a blaze of some glory.
       In the brief final section Maude pulls the rug out from under Lakemfa, unveiling some of the truths and fictions of what has been related. It has quite an effect on Lakemfa, as he decides to change his lifestyle. He was not quite a man at "the back of beyond" as Maude and Bozo might have been, but he turns firmly, coming back in. At the beginning of the novel he returned from church, "happy that I had obtained absolution from last week's transgressions and cheerfully planning to raid the school's poultry-house that night for a chicken or two." By the end he has decided to go down a different path.
       Bandele-Thomas tries a great deal in this novel, and much of the time he is successful. The lost souls are quite convincing: Maria, having lost her family, says she has "nobody else in this world", but she is told: "In Africa, that is not possible." Family fails these people, but there is almost always someone there to be found for them -- as Maude is there for Lakemfa.
       Bandele-Thomas is a good stylist, and by and large the novel is deftly written, with only a few scenes and sentences too overdone. It is a literary novel -- there's much reading in these pages -- but Bandele-Thomas generally manages to avoid trying to impress too much in this regard too. Yes, there's the section of the book titled "Myriads of Quincunx Grills". And there are several listings of eminent books and authors read -- including one that includes "Ezra Pound, Kofi Awonoor, (...) Faulkner, Ginsberg, Pope, (...) Socrates, Plato, Archimedes, Marx, Lenin". Archimedes ?!? Well, that too can be forgiven, as can the description of Bozo feeling like "Goëthe's Faust"
       It's an interesting, clever little book, with only the drug scenes ineptly handled. The characters are well-drawn, and though the focus is a bit loose -- the story within the story threatens to whirl the whole apart -- it is a qualified success in the end. And Bandele-Thomas' sharp pen, good ear, and fair imagination suggest a promising career ahead.

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Links:

The Man Who Came in from the Back of Beyond: Reviews: 'Biyi Bandele-Thomas: Other books by 'Biyi Bandele-Thomas under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books relating to Africa under review

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About the Author:

       Nigerian author 'Biyi Bandele-Thomas was born in 1967. He has written several acclaimed plays and novels.

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