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This review is taken from PN Review 69, Volume 16 Number 1, September - October 1989.

BACK HOME Amos Tutuola, Pauper, Brawler and Slanderer (Faber) £9.95, £3.95 pb.
Caryl Phillips, A State of Independence (Faber) £3.95 pb.
Daphne Merkin, Enchantment (Hamish Hamilton) £10.95

In times when vigilantes, dogma-touts and inquisitors lie in wait for any sign of heresy, a fiction job-lot as oddly assorted as this could drive a reviewer to drink. A black Nigerian male, a black Caribbean male, a New York Jewish female writer: who can compute (for instance) how many words should be spent on each (by a white male reviewer)? The fair reviewer has only ever aimed to grasp what the writer is out to do, to assess the writer's success, and to give the reader of the review as full a notion of the book as space limits permit. But orthodoxy-punters beset the fair reviewer; and if he frames his statements to conform with his own standards of judgement, he may be hammered by someone with quite different standards - of judgement, and of fairness. PNR has been featuring a debate on questions of cultural condescension which gives a reliable impression of how hyper-sensitive this area is.

When I read Amos Tutuola's new picaresque novel Pauper, Brawler and Slanderer, for instance, what pleasure I gained was thoroughly mixed with vexation and an itch to put the book aside. To confess as much in print, however, opens the white male reviewer to charges which he may feel as beside the point but which his accusers will press passionately; so it is with my heart in my mouth, and taking my courage in both typing fingers, that I suggest that Tutuola's new book simply is not very ...


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