At places in the novel, Jack Diaz is at a loss to comprehend the seeming madness of strife and conflict that his hosts were participants in. The Islamic sectarian violence of Ivory Coast has an immediacy and relevance in the post 9/11 context. Even funding for the Potable Water project that Jack is working on dries up in the anti-Islamic posturing of the post 9/11 political climate. This is tragic, for so many babies and children die in Ivory Coast as a result of contaminated water and resultant fatal infections. Though, Jack is on a humanitarian project, he is human too. This is revealed in his numerous affairs with local black women – some of whom are married and others prostitutes. This weakness on part of Jack is further testimony to the theme of the mysterious Africa, in that it shows how his rationality and initial benign intent gets consumed by the lure of exoticism. Jack’s tendency to digress from his mission is a metaphor for the power of Africa to brush aside rationality for more instinctual actions and motives. In other words, Jack Diaz’ initial proclamation that he is in Ivory Coast to “change the world” comes back to ridicule him, for he ends up assimilated the very instincts and behaviour that he was once critical of.
In sum, Whiteman is a fascinating novel by Tony D’Souza that is at once full of exoticism and insight. It is a statement on the power of tradition and instinct over progress and rationality. Jack Diaz’s failure to accomplish his mission and his assimilation into the backward-looking culture of Ivory Coast is a strong testament to the mystical and mysterious qualities of Africa that often escape reason and commonsense. The reader should be careful not to take it as a license for instinctual and irrational behavior. But instead take it as a warning for the dangers posed by this path. For example, the most obvious danger posed by Diaz’ reckless sexual behavior is unwanted pregnancies and abortions. This outcome is in clear contradiction to his original motivation for visiting Ivory Coast, namely, to save black babies for endemics.
D’Souza, Tony, Whiteman, published by Portobello in 2006, 288pp.