Payment in Kind - A Novel
Reviewed By: Avraham Azrieli
Avraham Azrieli's most recent novel is "Deborah Rising" (HarperColllins 2016), the story of the first woman to lead a nation in history.

Payment in Kind by Joseph M. Luguya is a novel that centers on Africa, yet takes readers on a journey both geographical and psychological, exploring complex issues of culture, politics, religion, justice and race. The novel is told in several layers, each complementing the other, in a highly ambitious structure that excels in keeping the reader’s interest.

While the novel encompasses multifaceted intellectual disciplines, historical dramas, and social-justice discussions, the author often hones in on human emotions and conflicts with a sharp eye and sensitive perceptions that result in rich imagery. For example:

“The hairs on Father Campbell’s dome stand on end as he mentally seeks escape routes from the difficult position he sees looming up.”

The tackling of serious and complex issues, which is quite ambitious here (and could be challenging to some readers), is lightened up by observations that touch on the comedic. For example:

“The seminarian’s face wears a quizzical air. His wide-eyed stare is briefly interrupted when he becomes overwhelmed by an unexpected urge to yawn. His struggle to stifle the yawn is futile.”

Perhaps most exceptional in Payment in Kind is the wonderful intermingling – and contradictions – presented in the context of African culture and traditions, contrasted with Christianity and its adherents. For example:

“But even as they turn to leave in the face of the practical problems that beset their mission, the representatives of the tribal elders in Namwinkholongwe predict that worse will befall the lad. They are supported in their prediction by not a few of the practicing Christians who watch them leave.”

An especially fascinating thread in the story is the exploration of psychology and, more specifically, sanity and madness, which is even more engrossing in such cross-cultural novel. For example:

“Without pausing, the balding professor adds as an aside: “I keep telling my students that insanity could well boil down to a trait of the mind – an aversion for thinking in cheerless straight lines or an avowal that one’s thinking will be in abstruse vicious circles!””

In summary, the author’s unique point of view, extensive familiarity with his subject matters and a talent for lively storytelling combine to create a realistic novel that spans across borders, oceans and continents, yet succeeds in remaining solidly anchored in the lives of interesting, genuine, flesh-and-blood characters. Highly recommended!