Connect with us

Thai Life

Books: Scoring big in Africa

Legacy Phuket Gazette



PHUKET: Denis Johnson published his first of three books of poetry at the age of 19. His meticulous attention to words is evident in his 11 books of fiction, which tend to be slim and terse, but intensely descriptive.

I’ve read his second novel, Fiskadoro, a post-nuclear apocalypse set in Key West, and his eighth, The Tree of Smoke, an epic – if somewhat overwrought – novel about the Vietnam War, winner of the 2007 National Book Award. Now, at 65, he has published The Laughing Monsters (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2014, 228pp) – an impressionistic black comedy set in bleak, war-torn Africa.

The narrator is Roland Nair, a spy for the espionage agency of NATO, who is dispatched from Amsterdam to Freetown, Sierra Leone. His mission has been prompted by the sighting of his old friend

Michael Adriko, a US Special Forces operative who has gone AWOL. Their friendship dates back over a decade to Sierra Leone’s civil war. They had both made a bit of money on the side and Nair is looking to repeat the operation. Most crucially, however, he is bored. “I’ve come back because I love the mess,” he explains. “Anarchy. Madness. Things falling apart.”

Nair holds a Danish passport and the rank of captain in the Danish Army but can barely speak the language. Adriko holds a Ghanaian passport but is from Uganda. He is headed now for the eastern mountains of the Congo where his clan had fled reprisals after the fall of Idi Amin. The occasion will be his wedding to Davidia St Clair, the beautiful African-American daughter of his commanding officer at the 10th Special Forces Group headquartered in Colorado from which he is now “detached”. Nair explains to the naive Davidia that she is now Adriko’s “fifth fiancee”.

Adriko and Nair had also been up to some vague skullduggery in Afghanistan. Now they look to profit from the poisoned African atmosphere of post-9/11. “The World Powers are dumping their coffers into an expanded version of the old Great Game,” Nair tells Davidia. “The money’s without limit, and plenty of it goes to snitches and spies. In that field, there’s no recession.” Or as Adriko has it: “Oh my goodness, you just tickle them in their terrorism bone, and they ejaculate all kinds of money.”

As bait, Adriko has a chunk of enriched uranium which he will claim came from an airplane full of the stuff that crashed in the Congo. The three conspirators fly off to Uganda in a Russian charter jet and put their radioactive wares up for market. They find a shifty pair of customers who turn out to be rogue Mossad operatives. After a fight, the trio flee into the Congo in a stolen Land Cruiser. They are now in a land of no law. Davidia is horrified when they run over a market woman and just keep going.

She screams repeatedly for them to turn back, “but we wouldn’t go back, we couldn’t – not in Africa, this hard, hard land where nobody could help that poor woman flopped probably dead in the road and where running away from this is not a mistake. The mistake was looking back at her in the first place.”

They find shelter in a village where the people speak Adriko’s native language, but a renegade Congolese army detachment arrives in pick-up trucks for an orgy of massacre, looting and rape. The commander takes the trio captive and turns them over to the American 10th Special Forces Group at a base they maintain to hunt down the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Adriko escapes en route, leaving Nair to be interrogated by another spook for going rogue on his spy mission. This dialogue between two world-weary schemers turns out to be the funniest section of the book, and Nair is released to search for Adriko deeper into the heart of darkness.

Denis Johnson has been compared to Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene and Robert Stone, though he lacks their moral gravitas. He is a fine prose stylist but his characters aspire to nothing more than the ill-gotten loot than will buy them a retirement of drunken pleasure with African hookers. Nihilism at its finest.

— James Eckardt


Get more from The Thaiger

📱 Download our app on Android or iOS
👋 Have your say on our Thailand forums
🔔 Subscribe to our daily email newsletter
📺 Subscribe / Join YouTube for daily shows
👍 Like/Follow us on Facebook
🐦 FOLLOW us on Twitter
📷 FOLLOW us on Instagram


Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Thailand12 mins ago

Sunday Covid update: 125 deaths and 12,353 new cases

Thailand9 hours ago

Record-breaking 1 million Covid-19 vaccines given yesterday

Technology12 hours ago

Junk messages must now be blocked by Thai mobile carriers

Welcome back to Thailand!

Thaiger is getting behind local businesses for the restart of tourism in Thailand - up to 50% discounts across all advertising packages!

Kanchanaburi13 hours ago

Abusive Kanchanaburi temple rehab centre ordered to close.

Phuket14 hours ago

Phuket begins new subdermal injection method for vaccines

Bangkok15 hours ago

Police bust hotel party with ecstacy and ketamine, 59 arrested

Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
Coronavirus (Covid-19)16 hours ago

Phuket Covid-19: 5 new deaths and 4 new Sandbox infections

Thailand17 hours ago

Saturday Covid-19 Afternoon Update: full provincial totals

Phuket20 hours ago

Phuket man finds 30 million baht surprise on beach: “whale poop”

Malaysia21 hours ago

Transgender who fled to Thailand faces extradition to Malaysia

Coronavirus (Covid-19)22 hours ago

Saturday Covid-19 Update: 11,975 infections, 127 deaths

Thailand2 days ago

Thailand News Today | Nov 1 reopening proposed; arrest for “sexy” officer cosplay | September 24

Coronavirus (Covid-19)2 days ago

Covid-19 UPDATE: Provincial totals, vaccinations and more

Coronavirus (Covid-19)2 days ago

Contrary to Anutin, US says delivery of vaccines awaits Thailand

Thailand2 days ago

Sunsets, ‘Farangs’ and Boring Charisma | Thaiger Bites | Ep. 25

Tourism4 days ago

Travel data to Thailand for 106 million people unprotected online

Economy6 days ago

Cuts to import duty on alcohol, cigars, part of plan to entice wealthy foreigners

Crime5 days ago

OnlyFans content creators arrested by Thai police on pornography charges

Thailand5 days ago

Party at luxury villa in Phuket raided, homeowner allegedly assaults police officer

Coronavirus Vaccines6 days ago

Doctors say cardiac arrest caused death of man given AstraZeneca booster shot

Coronavirus (Covid-19)7 days ago

Covid-19: Detailed info on vaccinations, hospitalisations, and provinces

Thailand6 days ago

Around 20 people arrested at Koh Samui restaurant for drinking alcohol, gambling, playing pool

Bangkok5 days ago

Governor says Bangkok will only re-open when safe to do so

Thailand5 days ago

Bangkok re-opening Criteria, Thai Airways keeps Struggling | Good Morning Thailand | Episode 93

Phuket3 days ago

Police suddenly began raiding Patong bars selling alcohol

Pattaya4 days ago

October Pattaya reopening on schedule according to mayor

Thailand6 days ago

Morning Top Stories | No approved October re-opening, Phuket easing restrictions | September 20

Crime4 days ago

Ex-cop “Joe Ferrari,” other officers charged with violating discipline policy over suspect’s death

Phuket7 days ago

Phuket domestic travel rules need streamlining, officials discuss

Thailand5 days ago

Government warns that posting pornographic material is illegal following OnlyFans creator being questioned by police

Thailand2 weeks ago

Morning Top Stories Thailand | Police to end protests, Human Trafficking | September 14

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism7 months ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism7 months ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism7 months ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand8 months ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand8 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand8 months ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand8 months ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand8 months ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand9 months ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand9 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand9 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11