Jack Diaz arrives in Ivory Coast as yet another American relief worker in West Africa. But when religious tensions rise and Muslims and Christians square off for civil war, he quickly becomes something else: acolyte to the village witch doctor, agile polyglot, adopted son of the local chief, reckless maverick to his own aid organization. And most important to the Worodougou people of his village, he becomes Adama Toubabou: Whiteman.
Despite the mounting violence and the psychic isolation it brings, Jack refuses to leave his post, a Muslim village deep in the bush. With no funding and little contact with the outside world, he devotes himself to learning the cycles of life thereof hunting in the rain forest, cultivating the yam, navigating the nuances of the language; of witchcraft, storytelling, and chivalry. Longing for love in a place where his skin color excludes him, he courts Djamilla, the stunning Peul girl; meets Mariam, his neighbor’s wife, in the darkened forest when the moon is new; and desperately pursues Mazatou, the village flirt, all the while teaching his neighbors about the dangers of AIDS.
Alongside Mamadou, his village guardian, Jack learns that hate knows no color, that heroism waits for us where we least expect it. Brimming with dangerous passions, ubiquitous genies, spirited proverbs, and the pressures of life in a time of war, Whiteman is a harrowing tale of desire, isolation, humor, action, and fear.
… in original, unfussy prose (a group of schoolchildren "sat like falling"; strange birds have calls "like the sound of people laughing at a party"), "Whiteman" suggests, with force and restraint, why a young American serving abroad, however haplessly, might not relish the prospect of having to return home. "The thought of America," Jack confesses, "hung before me like a cliff."