Governor of the Northern Province

by Randy Boyagoda
208 pages,
ISBN: 0670065641

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First Novels
by Nancy Wigston

Governor of the Northern Province by Randy Boyagoda (Penguin, 240 pages, $32.00, cloth, ISBN: 0670065641). In his take-no-prisoners novel about politics, immigration, and rock-solid Canadian naivetT, Randy Boyagoda emerges as the Evelyn Waugh of the North. An African named Bokarie arrives to work in a convenience store in a small town near Ottawa, desperate to conceal his warlord past, yet secretly laughing at what passes here for tragedy. A little girl's accidental drowning results in a "Think Pink" campaign¨the child's favourite colour¨that conveniently re-launches Jennifer Thickson's stalled political career. This graceless, ambitious young woman is undaunted by her previous political failure, when she ran unopposed for Graduating Class President and lost to "None of the Above".
Playing along with the patronising ignorance of the townsfolk¨their "zoological stares"¨Bokarie gets carried away by local politics, graced as he is with a clever tongue, plenty of Biblical references, and great dance moves. Joining Jennifer's nascent campaign, he aims to accompany her to Ottawa. Boyagoda shows a shrewd knowledge of the workings of small town Canada, where the guy with the car dealership is the richest in town, and an Alderman's widow expects to win a seat in Parliament by riding on her dead husband's coattails. That this doesn't happen is deeply satisfying.
The fun continues in Ottawa, where Jennifer makes an unexpected splash with "Think Pink"¨handily transformed into a reference to African dawns¨and her photogenic assistant. Before you can say "multiculturalism" they're swept away on an African junket with our cunning female Governor General. By now "emptied out", haunted by memories of violence, and of his one spontaneous act of heroism, Bokarie prepares to meet his fate back home. Although we are expected to swallow a few too many surprises, there are enough expert jabs to the soft belly of our collective smugness, coupled with brutal global realities, to keep us shocked and amused for the ride that the warlord and the neophyte undertake radically alters both their lives.

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