Arthur Japin has succeeded in layering deft (nearly poetic) prose upon a moving story upon a solid body of complex history. The result is enjoyably literary and musical.
The world of Kwasi Boachi, though set in an era apart, is true to a current worldview of Black people. You may be a Black prince. You may be a Black slave. At either extreme, you, especially as a Black man, remain far below the worthiness of simple human consideration, and as such can without conflict be at once Prince Nobody and Slave Nobody. Some of today's more subtle expressions of this sentiment don't mitigate its demeaning power. In fact they strengthen it.
Of course, this worldview of Blacks, while tightly upholstered, does not represent an uninterrupted fabric. No man-made construction could be so perfect neither in its evil nor in its goodness. There are right-thinking men and women of all colors who do not subscribe to lies and low thoughts on this matter.
Nevertheless, in the Black case, the fabric retains an amazing consistency under its disguise as an end unto itself. However, the real game is and has always been power and money, not color. Race, however, is probably the most convenient distraction used to establish a hierarchy complete with the areas of high and low pressure necessary for fierce winds to blow. How powerful and perceptive the author's summary in opening the book: Color is not something one has, color is bestowed on one by others.
Kwasi Boachi and his friend Kwame were, in different ways, blind to this fact. Kwasi makes the fatal mistake of attempting to prove his humanity to people who are impervious to believing or acknowledging it. His lifelong friend, Kwame, makes the fatal mistake of fully trusting a romantic notion of culture, not realizing that his notion was incomplete, consisting of only those cultural elements that did not threaten a broader power structure. Gestalt is ugly.
Look at how this tragedy played itself out in the book and think of today's dramas in parallel. Kwasi and Kwame discover that being Black means being treated extraordinarily - extraordinarily badly or extraordinarily well, but never simply as another human being of equal standing. Worse, while the bad treatment has its obvious ill effect, the evil of good treatment manifests itself so subtly as an undertone to a warm embrace.
What is the evil present in good treatment? Well, if a Black man is held up as a marvel, it is because of the shocking truth that a monkey can read, write, and perform human tricks. If he is congratulated, it is patronage that at its height of sincerity merely approaches the professional protocol that demands recognition of obviously uncommon deeds. At its depth see Tiger Woods and Fuzzy Zoeller for a prime example:
** "That little boy is driving well and he's putting well," Zoeller said. "He's doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it?" Then, as he was walking away, Zoeller snapped his fingers and added, "Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve."
This is the sentiment that says, "Wow, the monkey plays golf like a champion!" and gives new meaning to "greens fees". Racial prejudice is a distraction, an effective tool for stifling productive exchange and maintaining artificial but profitable differences between people. The masses of white people who maintain this system unwittingly are not compensated to the degree of their cooperation. Their pay has traditionally been "Thank God you are better than the Negro". Hardly negotiable but yet strangely satisfying. And, by definition, Blacks aren't compensated for submission - these days taking the form of inferiority complexes and sham rebellions. Now, while we both argue, someone is smiling on our trivia and counting white, black, brown, and Green money in neat, non-discriminatory stacks.
Racism alone cannot defeat a people - not by far. But, we would be silly not to recognize it for what it is and for what it does. The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi is a telling microcosm, and, in that, is much larger than black and white. However, given the role of race in public discourse, I thought it worth taking time with the racial surface of this book.
P.S. Check the differing covers on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com. Also would love to ask about translation of title: originally seems to be "The Black with the White Heart" my translation via cognates - don't know Dutch