Each of Don Mitchell’s “Stories from Nagovisi” is told by a different backwoods villager about the white American anthropologist who has come to live among and study them – and who has tried, half-successfully, to become one of them. They, already colonized several times over, in turn study him. What results is a complex sketch (the reader is left to puzzle out) of the very ambiguities each of us experiences in his displacement, if only in time, from one culture into another.
Among these, “I’m Going to Sovele” enthralls. Here the old, enfeebled, half deaf Lunta journeys, in his telling, to a hostile upland village to attend the funeral of a sometime enemy, where he fears being killed. Moment by moment, until he can make his escape, this unlikely Scheherazade beguiles his dangerous hosts with tales of the anthropologist, now not a study in the ironies of acculturation but a sheer comic creation. “I’m Going to Sovele” is a small comic masterpiece.