Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Setting the table...

I have read that the setting of a novel is metaphorically akin to a table - it is the firm foundation upon which everything else - the theme, the plot, the characters - are arranged for our ready consumption. Without that foundation, the spoons tumble asunder, the peas spill to the floor and the candlesticks have no base upon which to share their glorious light.

In some books however, the setting plays more than a predetermined structural role, and in "The Missionary and the Brute" this is indeed the case. Tanzania is definitely the structure which supports and allows the characters to interact as they do, but more than that, it almost becomes as a character unto itself. Reflecting shades of plot and theme in myriad ways.

I unabashedly adore Tanzania. The people, the landscape, the culture - they all add so much beauty and color to my life. But for all that is beautiful in this wondrous land, there is also an undercurrent of danger and indeed death that is constantly surprising to these American eyes. When I return from my trips to Africa, lots of people view my slides and express a desire to travel there as well, and I appreciate that. Unfortunately, unless you have been truly been there, there is practically no way aside from the lyricism of creative art to express the deep complexities of this seemingly simple locale.

For my novel, I have created the mythical village of Kintori upon which to lift up just such a story. It is based on places I have been and sights I have witnessed, and it tries to capture the essence of village life in rural Tanzania. Kintori is my MiddleEarth, my Perelandia. It is not real. Yet, in a way, it is hyper-real as well. There is much that is familiar to anyone who has traveled thus, or so I do hope. I have embellished this setting with the dogs, the plant life and the people - the sights, sounds and smells - that are known to me as I travel there. I have tried to assure that the customs and cultural aspects of Tanzanian life are evident in my little Kintori just as they are in the very real places to which I traverse.

In a way, "The Missionary and the Brute" can be seen as an epic clash of cultures that is based at least partially on this magnificent setting. It is probably important that I tell you that I have never witnessed with my own eyes serial killers in Africa, nor most of the events that transpire herein the novel - all of those have sprung forth from a fertile imagination reared on David Lynch films and Chuck Palahniuk novels in equal accord.

But truthfully when I am in country, even though I am typically sheltered fairly well away from the tragedies and travesties that befall the Tanzanian people, (any people) - I yet hear the muffled rumblings and stumble upon muted stories of a darker side. People are people despite their bucolic locale and death and brutality exist in Tanzania as they do elsewhere in the world. I certainly don't want to give the impression that is an us versus them tale, because I know there is certainly enough evil in this world to go around. No one people or place hold the monopoly on that.

Thankfully, there is - in my view of the world - even more light and goodness to go around as well. And that is the hope that we all bring to this and any land - regardless of the setting.

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