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More about Tanga

TANGA is a novel of forbidden love set in a rain forest village in the heart of Africa. Literary fiction in the tradition of the Entwicklungsroman (“novel of character development”), it merges adventure, romance, elements of the psycho-thriller and National Geographic Special plus a deconstruction of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, with David undergoing the Kurtz syndrome – to a lesser degree, of course. Like Kurtz, David enters the heart of “blackest” Africa as a white man, and as a Peace Corps volunteer of genuine idealism finds himself both “corrupted by” and also empathizing with the Africans he becomes involved with, and gradually “goes native.” This general structure is employed for very different purposes as exemplified by what David writes in a letter home, “In all my reading about Africa, the black and white together was bleak, with going native connoting going insane.”

The thematic and metaphorical implications of most of the key elements in the pattern are different, too – “going native” in Conrad’s book was devolving into the savages and Freudian id-dominated/sex-and-violence-prone animals (TANGA’s Bacie) that Conrad’s European audience took such pains to deny any kinship with (methinks they protested too much). The jungle that David ventures into for his “hunting” expeditions is dangerous, sure and dark, and all the pretentious trappings of civilization (your money, your lighter, your firearms) won’t help survive its embrace, but it’s also a place where you can learn about what civilization drowns out and distorts, where darkness and confusion can create a confrontation with yourself, where an individual can actually test himself or herself, and face up to certain things the daylight usually overwhelms (death, David’s failures to live up to the ideals – those ones he has retained as being somehow “real” -- while discarding others that he grows to recognize as being purely culturally determined).

The greatest strength of the novel is that it’s an irresistible love story. From the moment David sees Assam naked in the stream, right up through his final confrontation with the reality of a tragedy as a result of a corrupt former colonial forcing her to break her taboo, there is a tension or excitement between them that never dissipates, even during the long stretches when everything is going against them and they are misreading cultural codes and signals and failing to communicate.

Other strengths include simplicity of language, rich, genuine folk tales that originated in a Bantu dialect then came through French into English, colorful proverbs, striking evocation of locale that captures the essence of the place and its people over the course of dry and rainy seasons, ethnic awareness in the sensitive treatment of the sensitive issue of the white in Africa and wide emotional range interwoven with dramatic tension building to a riveting climax. Let me add that I began writing TANGA as a Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon and worked through several drafts over the years. In closing, in this time of Obama such a Peace Corps novel as TANGA is a welcome read.

About me: I'm an associate professor of English at Tokyo City University. My work, in one form or another, has appeared in Time, Asia Week, The East, Daily Yomiuri, Tokyo Journal, Kyoto Journal, Mississippi Review Online, with a readership of some 300,000 per month All Nippon Airways’ Wingspan (I’m a frequent contributor with full-features on several Asian countries and cultures), Japanophile (second place in a fiction contest for “Onbashira Groove”), articles in numerous academic journals (I’m the Japan editor for the Joseph Conrad Foundation), and a short story in The Broken Bridge, an anthology of short fiction about Japan published by Stone Bridge Press.

I have a B.A. (journalism major) from the University of Arizona and an M.F.A. in creative writing -- fiction -- from San Diego State University whose faculty in creative writing nominated chapters of TANGA for entry in nationally sponsored writing contests (AWP and L.A. Arts Council) plus years of experience as an advertising copywriter for such clients as Sony, Konica, Canon, Mazda and Nikko Hotels International. Copywriting, I should add, helped give my prose the kind of soft surface that allows for an immediate emotional entryway into a splendid, exotic land, one whose rain forests are rapidly disappearing as a result of Chinese logging companies clear cutting huge swaths of virgin equatorial rain forest. TANGA, finally, captures the ways of the Bantu living in harmony with their environs.

Eric Madeen