To Sleep With Ghosts

by G. F. Michelsen. Bantam, $21.50. The narrator of Mr. Michelsen’s expertly written novel is Samuel Kimbu, citizen of a nameless country on the east coast of Africa. Kimbu is a dutiful Christian and a qualified ship’s officer, educated in the United States but, owing to a piece of bad luck, stuck ashore as “Assistant Chief Inspector Railway and Harbor Customs” at a dismal little port some miles from nowhere. There is no chief inspector, as is only to be expected in a country controlled by a single political party whose corrupt bigwigs import Mercedes by the platoon while rural farmers barely avoid starvation. Naturally there is—or is thought to be—a dissident guerrilla force up in the hilly province from which Kimbu originally came and where his relatives still live fairly well, thanks to his salary. Kimbu cannot afford to quit a job he hates under a government that he privately despises, and when the authorities and the local CIA man demand that he turn spy and hunt down alleged rebel gunrunners, he has no choice but to try. The spy hunt is as tense and chancy as such ventures ought to be, involving sinister waterfront types, inept disguise, fierce seas, and a fat passenger adrift on the deck in a puddle of melted lard. There is no shortage of action, excitement, or sharp characterization in Mr. Michelsen’s story, but its basic purpose lies well beyond entertainment. Kimbu’s country represents a modern Africa where traditional beliefs linger without their traditional meanings and indigenous social systems have been superseded by the worst systems and products of the West. It is “limbo land, the in-between country, . . . lost between dead histories and alien cultures” that it is “destined to inherit.” Mr. Michelsen’s political analysis is not new, but it could hardly be more eloquently and effectively translated into fiction.