Yeah, Minister Faust's The Alchemists of Kush is about Sudanese “lost boys” struggling to survive in Edmonton, up in Canada. But it's not another one of those books that Americans like to read to make them feel glad they weren't born in an “underdeveloped” country, or to feel good about how ways other than their own are being wiped out. Go ahead, let corporate franchises bring civilization to primitive neighborhoods near and far. After all, is there anything outside of your everyday consumer life worth knowing?
The title hooked me. And the Africentric modernism. Then Ishmael Reed praised it. I bought it, read it, and was blown away.
Here is a book you can recommend to young men who listen to hip-hop and play video games, and who aren't impressed by today's light-weight young adult fantasy. Rap and “Jackie Chan's” struggle for survival in the Twenty-First Century is one that they will identify with. And not just the “blacks” – I'm reminded of how in the Borders where I worked, the only kids who looked at the rap CDs were white . . .
This tale of strangers in a strange land builds on modern “pop” culture rather than merely worshipping it. DC and Marvel, make way for a mythology that faces a new world and remembers a ancient one. Good to see in a time when all our superheroes are owned by corporations, and I keep hearing the target audience say that the latest megabudget comic book movie is, “Okay, not great, just okay.”
The Alchemists of Kush challenges everything. It tweaks the language to make the reader hear the accents and feel the rhythms. It destroys genre-distinctions; realistic depictions of fantastic contemporary life with Facebook and Twitter will be misinterpreted as science fiction by some, and it is not fantasy or magic realism – if we are lucky it is pointing the way to a new kind of realism. It steps out of the bounds of the young adult category – I remember when that category came into being, someday it will cease to exist. It's a book too big to be corralled by the publishing world's self-imposed limits.
Besides, that publishing world is crumbling.
It's hard to compare it to other books. The closest I can come is Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo – not in the plot or content, but the effect. Reading it gave me the same feelings I got when I read Reed's classic decades ago – the feeling of finding a universe that had been hidden. Having access to it expanded my possibilities.
It just might be exactly what the current generation needs.
It may be what we all need. After all, in a rapidly changing world, aren't we all immigrants and refugees? We wake up one day, and the things we were used to are gone, weird new things have replaced them. You might as well suddenly be on another continent, or another planet.
Yeah, Minister Faust. It's all about transformation. Don't accept the Pyrite. Go for the Gold.