by John Updike
The Coup was one of the novels that Hitchens infamously coerced me into reading through the magic of his prose, so, naturally, understand that I was very excited in opening this book up. The vivid picture Updike paints of a fanatic Muslim fundamentalist initially lived up to my expectations, but slowly gave its way to tedious descriptions that scarcely held my attention, often breaking up potentially gripping dialogue, making it much more of a chore to get through. That being said, the story was slow to start, but, luckily, it became much more riveting as the tale progressed.
By far, the best thing The Coup had going for it was the character of Hakim Félix Ellelloû, the aforementioned fanatic. Ellelloû was highly intelligent, but still fell prey to Islamic and tribal superstition. He very much believed in Kush––the imaginary African country in which the majority of the story takes place––and did everything within his power to prevent the encroachment of Westernization and technological developments to maintain the “purity” of his country. (The extent of Ellelloû’s efforts actually became almost comical as the plot developed, with Ellelloû almost dying absolutely unnecessarily in order to not make use of the technology he so despised.) He was also a very charismatic speaker, his diction heavily drenched with anti-West rhetoric that may seem familiar by now to most readers, but was not yet in the mainstream when The Coup was written. Interestingly, even though his speech maintains––or even improves––through the course of the story, the people around Ellelloû seem less and less convinced or impressed by this rhetoric, as though the whole world inevitably moved on without him, leaving him alone with his outdated dream.
By the end of the novel, The Coup is a hard story to recommend. The parts that were good––the best probably being the back story involving Ellelloû’s time in America––were really good, but the long descriptions droned on far too long for my liking. I most definitely struggled in places, but, who knows, your attention span could be better than mine.