A rollicking and ambitious novel that recalls Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, O, Africa! follows two filmmakers on an unlikely journey, while exploring the complexities of race, class, sexuality, and success in early twentieth century America.
In the summer of 1928, twin brothers Micah and Izzy Grand are at the pinnacle of their movie-making careers. From their roots as sons of Brooklyn immigrants, they have risen to become kings of silent comedy – with the brash, bloviating Micah directing and calling the shots, while his retreating brother skillfully works behind the lens. But when Micah’s penchant for gambling, and his interracial affair with Rose, a sharp-witted, light-skinned black woman from Harlem, combine to threaten his livelihood and his life, he finds himself in need of a quick escape.
As the ascent of the talkies looms on the horizon, the brothers’ producer offers them an opportunity that couldn’t be better timed: travel to Africa to compile stock footage of the exotic locales, as well as filming a new comedy in the jungle. Together with an unlikely crew of producers, stars and hangers-on, the Grands set out for Malwiki, where among the tribesmen they each discover unforeseen truths about themselves, their lovers, and the meaning of the movies.
Moving from the piers of Coney Island to Africa’s veld, and further to the glitter of early Hollywood, O, Africa! is an epic tale of self-discovery, the constraints of history and prejudice, and the stubborn resolve of family and friendship in the face of tragedy.
About Andrew Lewis Conn
Andrew Lewis Conn has written essays, short fiction, and reviews for The Believer, Film Comment, The Village Voice, Time Out New York, and the Indiana Review among others and attended writers residencies at Yaddo and Ledig House in Hudson, NY. Conn’s previous novel, P, was chosen as a best book of the summer of 2003 by Salon, Time Out New York, The Oregonian, and Nerve; one of the best books of the year by the Village Voice and the Austin Chronicle; and long-listed as “one of the best books of the millennium (so far!)” by The Millions.
From the Hardcover edition.
“Sprawling…[In] the tradition of maximalist Jewish fiction practiced by Howard Jacobson, Gary Shteyngart and Michael Chabon…Continually surprising…Profoundly inspired…[And] stuffed with themes about time and space, assimilation, language, mysticism, technology, and the American dream.”—Chicago Tribune
“A sweeping historical adventure comparable in its exuberance and scope to Ragtime and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay…[O, Africa!] transports the reader directly into the roaring twenties with Conn’s phenomenal cast as they grapple with the deepest questions of identity and the meaning of the American character.”—Brooklyn Daily Eagle
“Sprawling… Conn’s writing, particularly about the power of image, is lovely and inventive.”—New York Times Book Review
“Ingeniously contrived, [and] cleverly told…Conn can capture the creative chaos of movies with a knowledgeable and resonant voice.”—Publishers Weekly
“Things get pratfall-wild, and the excitement of early filmmaking surfaces (our heroes end up in Hollywood), but there’s pathos, too, as the brotherly bond is tested and social prejudice gets in the way of true love.”—Library Journal
“A wildly ambitious and entertaining novel that manages to be both slapstick and deeply tragic…. As a tale of two continents during a period of significant upheaval, this audacious novel encompasses not merely the essence of America and the art of moviemaking, but the nature of time. To bring this full circle, maybe the Coen brothers could adapt the vision of the Grand brothers for the big screen.” – Kirkus (starred review)
“Andrew Lewis Conn has written a strange, cool, hilarious and oddly moving masterpiece. DeLillo and Bellow have both sunk roots into Conn's prose, but the results are uniquely his own. O Africa! is a thing of wonder.” – Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
“A wise, irresistible comedy of artists, gangsters, hustlers, brothers, lovers and kings set at the end of the era of American silent film. Andrew Lewis Conn writes with a daring, vital, great-hearted brilliance. O Africa! moves with the swiftness of light and illuminates our present moment most ingeniously.” – Mary-Beth Hughes, author of Double Happiness
“Andrew Lewis Conn's O, Africa! is one of the funniest and saddest books I've read in years. It's a tender satire of the heroic age of American film, and the same time a heartbreaking portrait of two brothers lost in the images of their time, and their hearts' desires. Conn knows what he's talking about, and he writes with a Bellow-esque vigor that cranks the story into flickering, shimmering life.” – Paul La Farge, author of Luminous Airplanes
"It's been—actually, don't remind me how many years—since Conn's singularly audacious debut, and though O, Africa! charts an exciting new course, the author remains as he was: besotted by the movies and drunk on words." – Ed Park, author of Personal Days
Praise for Andrew Lewis Conn
"Rambunctious, exhilarating, surreal, funny, and moving . . . Conn has written an urbane adventure story that worldly readers will enjoy." --New York Times Book Review
"Racy...[and] ambitious...with echoes of James Joyce and Philip Roth." --Time Out New York
"Conn's novel is a young man's declaration of wild ambition." --Salon
"Conn sends us on an engaging, entertaining, funny, and moving trip... A writer to watch. --Kirkus Reviews