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Reviewed by Lucinda E Clarke for Readers' Favorite
The Dung Beetles of Liberia by Daniel V Meier is the story of a young college undergraduate at Cornell who drops out of school to take a job flying planes in Liberia. He leaves behind his astonished family and his almost-fiancée in a bid to escape the demons that plague him over the death of his brother. He’s learned that Liberia is one of the richest countries in Africa and has high expectations of what he will find there. America had repatriated many slaves in the 1800s and established a democracy and infrastructure. What young Kenneth found was the true state of Africa with its own interpretation of life, morals, and ethics. It shocks him to the core. Life is cheap, the hierarchy is absolute, the poor are driven to the point of extinction and he finds himself rubbing shoulders with other hard-drinking, wild and unprincipled expatriates. Kenneth Verrier is a typical young American from a good family who is shocked to the core with what he encounters. Flying small planes delivering equipment to the mines – and a little diamond smuggling on the side – with no attention paid to overloading, air traffic rules, non-existent runways and center of gravity safety regulations. Little by little Kenneth learns to adapt but never loses his humanity. He is a likable hero, and tells his story simply, honestly and clearly.
Since it was written in the first person, I had to research to see if this was a personal memoir. No, but it is based on a true account of life there at the time, which I suspect has changed very little. This is possibly the most honest tale of Africa I have ever read. It may not sound as politically correct as other books set in similar places, but the author brilliantly highlights the cheapness of life, the lack of compassion, the willingness of the poor and downtrodden to accept their lot in life. Many readers may simply not believe the tales told with such pathos and humor but I can assure them that life is as wild and undisciplined as they are recounted. I loved this book, one of the best I have read in a long, long time and find it difficult to believe the author did not spend most of his life in Africa as he has grasped the problems, the customs, and the mindset so truthfully. Highly recommend reading – in fact this should be on the prescribed reading list of every high school as a window on a continent with a different way of life and a different mindset. Welcome to the world of Africa.