At the start of Mark Jacob’s remarkable new novel ― his first book in thirteen years ― thirty-seven-year-old Smith wins a “stash” of diamonds in a poker game. The only catch: he has to find them.
A Louisiana native, Smith is currently employed on an oil platform off the west coast of Africa, while the diamonds are somewhere in the immense, war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. But Smith’s grown tired of the platform and he hates the idea of wasting a full house. One last adventure, he tells himself, and then, diamonds or no diamonds, he’s heading home to Louisiana.
In Kinshasa, Smith meets a young woman named Béatrice, who hails from a village on the other side of the country. But this village, she tells Smith, is where his diamonds are ― a thousand miles away as the crow flies, but significantly longer on the patchwork of guerilla-patrolled roads that traverse the country. If he helps her get home, she’ll show him where the stones are.
What ensues is a guided tour of hell in which a not-so-innocent American abroad comes face to face with the legacy of European imperialism in the heart of the African continent. Like Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, and V.S. Naipaul before him, Jacobs reveals the limits of the western gaze, inverting the tropes of the white-savior novel to give us a story about a man who realizes you don’t have to travel to another country to get lost, and you don’t have to go home to be found.
A former foreign service officer, (as well as a PCV) Mark Jacobs (Paraguay 1978-80) has published more than 170 stories in magazines including The Atlantic, Playboy, The Baffler, The Kenyon Review, and The Southern Review. His story “How Birds Communicate” won The Iowa Review fiction prize. He has stories forthcoming in several magazines including The Hudson Review. His story “Dream State” won the Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Kafka Prize. His five books include A Handful of Kings, published by Simon and Shuster, and Stone Cowboy, by Soho Press, which won the Maria Thomas Award.