The Ghosts of Eden by Andrew J. H. Sharp is, like the story of Joseph’s coat from the Hebrew Bible, of many colors. It is a story that zooms back and forth in time and across strains of characters’ lives, at times with the speed of a supersonic jet, and at others, languidly like an eagle gliding on wind currents.
On the one hand, it is the story of Michael Lacy, the son of English settlers in pre-independence Uganda, who at the opening of the story is a prominent surgeon in the UK. On the other, the story of the Katura brothers, Stanley and Zachye, two members of the Bahima tribe who are sent off to school to learn the ways of the Bazungu, or whites, in order to be able to survive in the Uganda that is to come.
Although fictional, The Ghosts of Eden gives the reader an in depth look at African culture and the strains between traditional tribal culture, and the ‘modern’ culture imposed by colonization. The characters are so well formed, we feel as if we know them – their dreams and desires as familiar as our own. Told from a semi-omniscient point of view, the author nonetheless allows us to glimpse inside key characters’ minds, adding significantly to the tension that builds steadily from the moment Michael’s seat mate on the plane as he’s returning to Uganda to speak at a medical conference, dies quietly in his sleep. There is action and mystery aplenty in Sharp’s narrative, but this is also a love story – one with more twists and turns than an English garden maze as Michael, Stanley, and Zachye all vie for the heart of the beautiful, but enigmatic Felice.
My only complaint about the book was the author’s habit of not indenting certain paragraphs within chapters, until I realized that this was signaling a change in the action. That realization came about a third into the second chapter, so this really doesn’t count as a distraction.
The Ghosts of Eden defies genre characterization. Mystery, thriller, romance, historical novel, or perhaps a better description is literary tour de force. An exceptionally well-written novel that, once begun, is hard to put down until you arrive almost breathlessly at the end – and as you close it, you say, that’s the way it should be.