Filling in the Blank Space: Contemporary American Novels Set in Invented African Nations
Several American authors have set their novels in invented African nations, imaginary countries meant to represent the characteristics, values, and conflicts of the entire continent. Contemporary American novels set in invented African nations include The Seersucker Whipsaw by Ross Thomas, The Tangent Objective and The Tangent Factor by Lawrence Sanders, The Coup by John Updike, Land Without Shadow by Michael Mewshaw, and Horn of Africa by Philip Caputo. For the most part, these novels conform to the traditional Western notions about Africa outlined in Chapter 1. Among these conventions are the ideas that the West and Africa are in binary opposition, that Africa is a mysterious "blank" space, and that Africa is a testing zone where Westerners can experience epiphanies or gain rewards.
American novels with invented African settings are largely didactic. These works relay information about actual African cultures by including features of actual Africa in descriptions of invented settings. The use of an invented African nation as the setting for a novel allows authors to focus on the relationship between the West and Africa without being critical of any single African country. Like actual African nations, invented African countries are frequently divided by political, tribal, and religious conflicts; these divisions are often the result of different peoples being grouped together under a single flag by their former colonial masters. Again and again, novels set in invented Africas note that political upheaval in Africa is the legacy of imperialism. These novels are also reminders that imperialism, in the guise of Cold War conflicts in which the superpowers use Africa as a battleground, is still a powerful force in contemporary Africa.
Some readers may assume that the invented African nations they encounter in contemporary American fiction are actual countries. Most authors of these novels