Black mischief

by Evelyn Waugh

Other authorsJohn Holder (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 1999




London : Folio Society, 1999.


""Black Mischief, " Waugh's third novel, helped to establish his reputation as a master satirist. Set on the fictional African island of Azania, the novel chronicles the efforts of Emperor Seth, assisted by the Englishman Basil Seal, to modernize his kingdom. Profound hilarity ensues from the issuance of homemade currency, the staging of a "Birth Control Gala, " the rightful ruler's demise at his own rather long and tiring coronation ceremonies, and a good deal more mischief.

User reviews

LibraryThing member pechmerle
An early work (1938) about an independent African country by an English novelist. A very funny, politically incorrect, satirical assessment -- in fictional form -- of the prospects for African countries post-colonialism. Given the disappointing history of many post-independence African states, with
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widespread political corruption and frequent dictatorships and military coups, it's not so easy to dismiss Waugh's sarcastic pessimism. It's also true that he regards the European imperialists and colonialists as haplessly inept as well. Some will -- and have -- seen his perspective as racist. It is perhaps more accurate to recognize his general misanthropy.
(Recommended to read after this: John Updike's The Coup.)
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LibraryThing member roblong
Very funny. Big caveat with this one is the racism - Waugh is unabashedly racist, and the terminology he uses, while presumably common in 1932, grates pretty heavily now. That said, while none of the characters comes out of the book with any credit, it's the westerners who come off by far worst,
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both in manipulating the country for their own ends and in being the source of the forced modernity that is such a disaster. Really, Waugh just didn't like anyone...
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LibraryThing member mrtall
Waugh's bored aristocratic protagonist, one Basil Seal, bullies and blunders his way into the de facto prime ministership of the fictitious African nation of Anzania. Black Mischief is funny, but tiptoes a fine line between acerbity and bitterness, with the latter winning out in the end. If you're
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new to Waugh, I'd start almost anywhere else in his work.
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LibraryThing member edella
amazon PD: 'We are Progress and the New Age. Nothing can stand in our way.' When Oxford-educated Emperor Seth succeeds to the throne of the African state of Azania, he has a tough job on his hands. His subjects are ill-informed and unruly, and corruption, double-dealing and bloodshed are rife.
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However, with the aid if Minister of Modernization Basil Seal, Seth plans to introduce his people to the civilized ways of the west - but will it be as simple as that?
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LibraryThing member tronella
I read this for book club. While I was reading it I was mainly busy thinking about how racist it was, but it grew on me afterwards as I thought about it and discussed it. It's some kind of... political satire thing set in Africa. Parts are mildly amusing, I guess, but I can't say its sold me on
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LibraryThing member P_S_Patrick
Another comical novel by Waugh, with similar humour to Decline and Fall, but a bit more focused on the satire. This novel will provide substantial relief to those stuggling to bear the current climate of political correctness. He writes things that modern authors would not dare to say, which is a
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reflection more of the current state of society than of its writers. Waugh wrote this book after a trip into Africa, and it is at least partly based on his experiences. He describes things as he found them, bluntly, but polished to be entertaining. If what he writes is funny, then it is funny because there is truth in it, even if it is not wholly accurate.
I would have enjoyed the story more if it was a bit longer, and if it was resolved in a better manner, but this is no reason to be put off reading this.
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LibraryThing member santhony
This is a moderately entertaining comical farce written by early 20th century British writer Evelyn Waugh. Its centerpiece is a fictional island off the eastern coast of Africa near Somalia named Azania. This fictional island contains two local tribes as well as a collection of Arab merchants and
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European functionaries.

The island has been united under the rule of a local tribesman who has sent his son to study at Oxford. The patriarch dies, as does his sole surviving legitimate heir, a daughter. The daughter’s husband seeks to assume control of the country, but the Oxford educated son returns and engages the country in a civil war, assisted by an English colonel who heads up his army.

Ultimately, the grandson, Seth, prevails and has as his goal the advancement and modernization of his country. Unfortunately, he is hopelessly idealistic, completely unrealistic, and ultimately childlike and devoid of any shred of common sense. He is surrounded by opportunistic Europeans and local nobility who are no better than savages.

The entire book is little more than an indictment of both the local inhabitants (portrayed as hopelessly corrupt and stupid) and the colonial forces who seek to profit from their corruption and stupidity. While there are moments of amusement, it actually becomes quite tiresome after about a hundred pages. There is actually not much to recommend it.
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LibraryThing member augustusgump
This book is not considered politically correct these days, because of the way the African population of the fictional nation of Azania is portrayed. In fact, they get off pretty lightly compared to the Europeans. Waugh is superb when he is satirizing the upper classes, as with the British legation
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in Black Mischief.
Not for the first time with Waugh, I found the ending a bit disappointing. However, that is easily made up for by the many laughs this book served up along the way. Very, very funny.
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LibraryThing member .Monkey.
I'm a bit torn on this book, not sure what to think of the racial issues, whether he was really writing so negatively about the Africans or not. In either case, he was satirizing the British (and other European) upper class without doubt, far more so, and did it rather amusingly. I laughed a fair
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bit reading the absurdities going on in this novel, and it definitely made me want to read more Waugh.
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LibraryThing member Ben_Poland
Not as entertaining as Decline and Fall or Vile Bodies and also a little racist.
LibraryThing member leslie.98
While some may find this satire not 'pc', I found it hilarious1
LibraryThing member liamfoley
If you find this book racist then you either haven't actually read it or don't understand satire. While the Africans are portrayed as barbaric the Europeans are all upper class and thus descendant from equally barbaric people a few hundred years previously.
That said there are other Waugh satirical
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novels that are better.
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LibraryThing member iansales
This was one of a bunch of Evelyn Waugh novels my mother found me in charity shops. In Harrogate. Where they obviously have a somewhat different class of customer to Sheffield. Although, to be fair, it’s a rare charity shop that will keep 1950s Penguin paperbacks on their shelves. And they were
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pretty tatty copies too. Black Mischief is set in the invented African island-nation of Azania. There are two African language-groups, one native to the island, the other invaders several centuries earlier. Plus Arabs, legations from assorted European nations, churches from the major religions, and a variety of hangers-on and chancers. The current ruler dies and his son, only just down from Oxford, takes the throne. And is determined to drag his country into the twentieth century (the fourth decade of it, at least). Waugh lays out the history of his invented country with impressive clarity. The story then shifts to London and Basil Seal, a character from Waugh’s earlier novels, a dissolute upper class wastrel, who happens to know the new emperor of Azania and fancies getting out of London. So he travels to Azania, hooks up with emperor, and is made Minister of Modernization. He’s in it for what he can get, of course, but he’s out-matched by pretty much everyone else in the country. Had Black Mischief been written a few decades later, it might have aged better. Because it’s horribly racist. It’s not just the language, it’s the treatment of races other than English. Waugh mocks the English quite heavily; and the French too. Especially their legations. But his treatment of the Sakuyu and Wanda relies on racial caricatures, as does his characterisation of Youkoumian, an Armenian Jew. Perversely, the one non-English character who isn’t treated racistly is the new emperor, who comes across as woefully naive, if well-intentioned, and the sort of over-educated naif so beloved of Oxbridge comedies. Not one of Waugh’s best.
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LibraryThing member burritapal
The racist author makes a comedy of 1940s Madagascar's autonomic government and its occupants, including Europeans and other foreigners.

The British legation, which I guess is another word for embassy, gets mail when the train goes to Debra Dowa (Antananarivo). All these slothful English people just
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hang around living on British taxpayers' money, doing nothing. But there was something comical about one of the letters that came in on the mail:
" 'I say, though, here's something interesting, my word it is. Can't make head or tail of the thing. It says, "good luck. Copy this letter out nine times and send it to nine different friends ".. what an extraordinary idea.'
'Envoy dear, do be quiet. I want to try the new records.'
'no, but prudence, do listen. It was started by an American officer in france. If one breaks the chain one gets bad luck, and if one sends it on, good luck. There was one woman lost her husband and another one who made a fortune at roulette -- all through doing it and not doing it.. you know I should never have believed that possible..' "

It's kind of embarrassing to read some of the authors' words in the story. For example the Emperor's General, an Irishman, is married to a native, who he makes no bones about calling "Black Bitch." In one part of the story, Madame Ballon, the wife of the French diplomat, invites his wife and the General to a dinner at their French Legation. She's so excited about being invited (as she's always been ignored before), that:
"as the time approached Black Bitch's excitement became almost alarming and her questions on etiquette so searching that the General was obliged to thump her soundly on the head and lock her in a cupboard for some hours before she could be reduced to a condition sufficiently subdued for diplomatic society."
Is this supposed to be funny? The guy's not only a racist but he's a misogynist.
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LibraryThing member Andy_Dingley
It has the feel of an early novel by a talented writer learning their trade, who will go on to great things.

In fact it's Waugh's third and comes after, the far better, both Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies.

There is some fine writing here, and the elements of tropical farce are frequently funny.
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It's a novel "of its time" and the caricaturing of some of the natives is about as crass as one might expect. That said, much of the humour is at the expense of the French and British colonial types. Youkoumian the Armenian factotum is a splendid foil to the British antihero. It would take some robust editing to make this acceptable to modern ears, although the surprise is perhaps how little would have to go. It's not as if the book even _needs_ this stuff.

The real failing though is the weakness of Seth, the central character. A common enough trope, the African prince educated at Oxbridge, who returns home, unexpectedly ascends the throne and then decides to modernise his country, with the aid of his old college acquaintance. But he barely appears. He's mostly offstage, communicating by half-informed memos to the Ministry of Modernisation, as to where best to purchase an Artesian Well.

Overall, it doesn't work. It has its moments and Waugh is already clearly someone who will write great works. But sadly this isn't one of them.
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