Thursday, November 16, 2023

Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh -- BOOK BEGINNINGS



Thank you for joining me for Book Beginnings on Fridays! Please share the opening sentence (or so) of the book you are reading this week, or just a book that caught your fancy.

We, Seth, Emperor of Azania, Chief of the chiefs of Sakuyu, Lord of Wanda and Tyrant of the Seas, Bachelor of the Arts of Oxford University, being in this the twenty fourth year of our life, summoned by the wisdom of Almighty God and the unanimous voice of our people to the throne of our ancestors, do hereby proclaim . . .
-- from Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh (ellipses in original).

For the last several months, I've been reading Evelyn Waugh books as part of a buddy read group on Instagram.  Our book this month is Black Mischief. I have two copies to chose from. One is an omnibus edition that also includes Vile Bodies, one of our earlier reads. (Some of the same characters appear in both.) The other is a Penguin edition with a Peter Bently cover. The print is a smidge bigger in the Penguin book, so I’m going with that one.

I love Evelyn Waugh books. But this one sat on my TBR shelf for a long time. It is farcical satire about Seth, the Oxford-educated emperor of Azania, a fictional African nation. Seth brings in his college chum Basil Seal to head up Azania’s new Ministry of Modernization.

I’ve dragged my feet over reading it because, given the premise, I feared it wouldn’t have aged well. Apparently, while contemporary readers struggle with Waugh’s depiction of race, his contemporary readers complained the book was anti-Catholic. I decided to read it it with the idea of learning from past cultural mistakes – racial and religious – not glorifying them. That’s always my approach to older books that don’t match our current standards.

But it isn't as dated as I feared. It is really hilariously funny and mostly a send up of soft colonization.  I say soft because Azania is an independent nation. But the island is overrun with western diplomatic legations, missionaries from half a dozen churches, European mercenaries, and an international set of adventurers and tradespeople. The humor is extremely dry and situational, not based on witty comments people make.  

Have you read Black Mischief? Would you?


Please add the link to your Book Beginnings post in the box below. And please use the #bookbeginnigns hashtag if you share on social media. 

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The Friday 56 is a natural tie-in with Book Beginnings. The idea is to share a two-sentence teaser from page 56 of your featured book. If you are reading an ebook or audiobook, find your teaser from the 56% mark. 

Freda at Freda's Voice started and hosted The Friday 56 for a long, long time. She is taking a break and Anne at My Head if Full of Books has taken on hosting duties in her absence. Please visit Anne's blog and link to your Friday 56 post. 


-- from Black Mischief:
"I wonder if you know anything about this cable. Can't make head or tail of it. Isn't in any of the usual codes. Kt to QR% CH."
That's longer than two sentences, but it only makes sense this way. This statement from the head of the British legation sets up a comic scene later. The "code" he can't figure out is a chess move one of the young people is playing by correspondence. Later, the British butler copies the "code" because he is spying for the head of the French legation. The French guy thinks it is a clue to proving that the British are plotting a takeover of the country. When, in reality, the British guy is a dolt who shirks his job and plots nothing more sinister than how to grow asparagus so he doesn't have to eat it from a can.  

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