Darkest England, By Christopher Hope

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The Independent Culture

This Swiftian satire on how others view us, and how we treat visitors to this country, is horrifying, laughable, embarrassing and ultimately eye-opening. Christopher Hope leads his protagonist, David Mungo Booi, an orphaned bush boy from South Africa, through various hoops, from a heartless arrival in London to incarceration as an illegal immigrant and rescue by a religious group eager to learn all about his customs. He is on a mission to meet the Queen, whose ancestor, Victoria, promised his people help in times of trouble. Booi's people want to know if they should resettle in England, but their preconceived notions about the country they revere are only partly correct. (Yes, it is colder and wetter than their homeland; no, the North isn't a "savage, uncharted waste".)

Booi's great expectations of the English lead him to misinterpret everything people say and do, and he puts a gloss on even the most inhuman treatment, displaying his own high standards of behaviour with humorous and pathetic effect. Yet, though it could have been thoroughly dispiriting, this book actually becomes uplifting, and our innocent abroad remains unbowed by whatever befalls him.

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