White

Deni El­lis Béchard

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction -

Milk­weed Edi­tions (OC­TO­BER) Soft­cover $15 (320pp) 978-1-57131-125-2

A white child ap­pears among the street urchins of the Congo; two Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tion­ists dis­ap­pear in the jun­gle. Deni El­lis Béchard’s White lands its jour­nal­ist lead smack in the mid­dle of these two seem­ingly un­re­lated sto­ries for a tale that feels like James Mich­ener and Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez joined forces to craft a med­i­ta­tion on race.

White is some­how both breath­less and in­tro­spec­tive, a ca­reen­ing po­lit­i­cal thriller and a work of deep con­tem­pla­tion. Béchard’s epony­mous pro­tag­o­nist heads to the Congo chas­ing a story. He’s try­ing to track down a mys­te­ri­ous con­ser­va­tion­ist at the cen­ter of a web of cor­po­rate cor­rup­tion. On the plane, he meets Sola, an an­thro­pol­o­gist fol­low­ing in­trigue of her own. A col­league has found a white—not al­bino—child on the streets of Kin­shasa who claims to be an African girl trans­formed by a de­mon. Over the course of join­ing with Sola to re­cover the child’s ori­gins, Béchard finds him­self hav­ing to reckon with a mem­ory he’s set aside for some time.

White en­thralls and in­spires won­der, its am­bi­tious sto­ry­telling work­ing through a cap­ti­vat­ing mix of po­lit­i­cal in­trigue and some­thing near mag­i­cal re­al­ism. This artistry al­lows Béchard to move into some­what dan­ger­ous ter­ri­tory: he is a white au­thor writ­ing about race and colo­nial­ism. While any of his in­ter­wo­ven story lines could eas­ily move into clumsy metaphors, the book un­folds with thought-pro­vok­ing nu­ance.

In White, there is noth­ing clean cut about the way white­ness man­i­fests in geopol­i­tics. There is also noth­ing sim­ple about the way we in­ter­nal­ize sys­tems of priv­i­lege and power. They are in­sid­i­ous, haunt­ing even the “woke” among us, a phe­nom­e­non Béchard il­lus­trates through his self-ref­er­en­tial pro­tag­o­nist with no­table self-aware­ness.

White is a rare work of fic­tion in which one can get lost in sto­ry­telling and grow as a thinker at the same time. Cap­ti­vat­ing, ca­reen­ing, thrilling, and mag­i­cal, this is in­tel­li­gent en­ter­tain­ment. JESSIE HORNESS

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