Friday, June 18, 2010


by Evelyn Waugh

Due to a case of mistaken identity, a mild-mannered columnist on country life, William Boot, is sent as a war correspondent to Ishmaelia, an independent African nation where dissent is brewing between long-time ruling family the Jacksons and anarcho-communist upstarts prompted by German and Russian interests.  Boot, though utterly stymied by the lackadaisical and corrupt Ishmaleian government (as well as his fellow journalists), and through no merit of his own, scoops everyone and returns to an unwelcome hero’s welcome.

The first time I read this was seventeen years ago.  I think I may have appreciated it a bit more this time around – it recalls Wodehouse in its muddled plot and tortuous misadventures of its characters, as well as the brilliant characterization through dialogue.  But Waugh is much more scathing: of the fatuous, ant-brained upper classes, of the bumptious but ultimately useless journalistic set, of the oafish and self-centered country dwellers.  More than a satire of what was then modern journalism, it’s a witty, often hilarious look at the caprices of human nature. 

[read twice: 9/1/93, 6/18/10]

four stars