08 November 2007

Last Orders at Harrods: An African Tale (Michael Holman)

My adage has always been that if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck. This time, however, I was wrong. Last Orders at Harrods: An African Tale looks like a book by Alexander McCall Smith, sounds like a book by Alexander McCall Smith and features a township heroine who closely resembles one of Alexander McCall Smith’s – but Last Orders is another species of novel altogether.

Penned by Michael Holman, born in Zimbabwe and formerly Africa editor of the London Financial Times, Last Orders draws us into a notorious East African slum in the fictional country of Kuwisha (read: Kenya), where political tensions, wild riots, gangs headed by street urchins and government corruption combine with chicken necks in Worcestershire sauce, bumbling characters, Tusker beer, devastating hilarity and legal action over the name of Harrods International Bar (and Nightspot) – where everything happens.

Like McCall Smith, Holman relies on a gently satirical fable and a strong African woman, Charity Mupanga, to introduce the reader to everyday life in Africa; unlike McCall Smith, Holman comments fearlessly on the continent’s unfortunate and often ugly realities. There is humour, but no cuteness; the story is simple, but it is no bed-time story. Holman is a serious political commentator in satirist’s clothing, and his debut novel is a must-read.


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