Much is happening between China and several African countries. Many Chinese come to Africa to find work, some in the wake of contracts that the Chinese government made with African countries. About a century ago many people from the Indian subcontinent moved to East Africa to work on the railroad form Mombasa to Lake Victoria. Many of these workers stayed in East Africa. So what will happen with all the Chinese workers, who will be imported for the replacement of this old railwayline? I read recently that 1 million Chinese have settled in Africa over the last ten years.
In this book we find an early example of the relationship of Chinese and Asian traders in a country without a name. The writer worked in Uganda in his younger years. The descriptions in the book (inclusive of the mentioning of the importance of bananas) do fit very well with this East African country.
The protagonist is Sam Fong, who runs a small shop, in which he tries to sell what ever he can find. He is a Chinese who worked in pre-independence days as a government carpenter. At independence a local African takes charge of his department, even though he was better qualified. He promises to himself that he never, never again will be a carpenter. He sticks to his promise even when times get hard in his little shop. And times are hard. Sometimes he lives with his wife and children in the shop itself, because life outside is hard and complicated.
Fong manages to get dependent of Fakhru, a bussinessman of Ishmaili-persuasion (a follower of the Aga Khan). In everything Fong tries to find something good and positive, but more and more het gets dependent and in debt. Everywhere problems are lurking.
One day two American men visit him in his little shop. They are agents of the CIA, who try to recruit him for their plans. They are not the only visitors to his shop. Two Chinese men try to convince Fong, who is Roman Catholic, to toe the party-line of the communist party in China. And what about local politics? Asians are extradited. The prime-minister travels to his countryhome and gets a farewell party, everyone wants to be near him and cheer him.
Everything is told in a humoristic and ironic way, one misunderstanding follows another one. Fong tries to survive in a world of misunderstanding and cheating fellowmen. It was a nice read.
Paul Theroux – Fong and the Indians – 1968