‘Cape Verde is a group of semi-arid volcanic islands lying off the coast of west Africa. The economy is based on fishing and subsistence farming but relies on emigrant workers’ remittances and foreign aid’ (The Times Atlas of the World).
Other American Dreams, by Sergio F Monteiro
Publisher’s Blurb: “On a quiet island nation in the Atlantic Ocean, where the easy pace of life draws thousands of tourists a year to its serene beaches, a boat full of dead migrants has washed up on its shores unannounced. Shocking the residents of this sleepy tourist destination as well as local policeman, Sergeant Abel ‘Aranha’ Teixeira. But there is a secret world hidden from the view of tourists, and Aranha is no stranger to the corruption that plagues his otherwise picture perfect island home. He is a man with his own dark allegiances that he thought were in his past, but as he probes the mysterious circumstances that brought the doomed migrants to his country’s shores, he finds that the case is layered in something far worse than organised corruption, and far more deadly. To solve the case and bring a measure closure (sic) to the human tragedy it created, Aranha knows that he has to expose the secret world of the powerful, and bring to justice those responsible, even if it means exposing his own dark past.”
Where and When: The contemporary story is set on the island of Santiago. One of the other islands, Sal, is the setting for the dark events in Aranha’s past.
Sense of Place: In his Prologue, Monteiro says: “I wanted to paint as complete and vivid a picture as possible about this country and the plight of all migratory folk that has become a controversial topic in today’s increasingly violent world.”
Cape Verde was once a part of the Portuguese empire, and its after effects are still felt in the way Cabo-Verdean society is fiercely divided along shades of skin tone. The lighter your skin, the higher a place in the social scale you inhabit. This racial tension is exacerbated by the swelling numbers of migrants from continental Africa, and by the growing class of citizen known as repatriados Americanos; these are Cabo-Verdeanos who have migrated to the United States, been imprisoned for crimes, and have been deported back to Cape Verde after serving their jail terms.
These returnees are a violent addition to the drug gangs that have grown increasingly powerful since the 1980s, with the connivance of corrupt police officers like Captain Danilo ‘Kutcho’ Da Silva, “short, pudgy and liked to wear an effeminate diamond earring that matched the thin, modern cut of his beard.”
At one point, Monteiro looks back to how the islands appeared to the Portuguese imperialists in the mid 15th Century: “lush and green beyond the imagination. Greens layered in an inviting fauna of tall Acacia trees and moist from the condensing heat of the hot earth. . .Nature’s hues so vibrant that it was as if God had painted them with the vibrant colours of a child’s imagination.”
This paradise lost is in stark contrast with the poverty and desperation of Cape Verde today: “The busy road was flanked on either side by the Tira Chapeau barrio, a district still waiting to be paved and lacking ample street lights. This was the edge of Praia, where abject poverty was all the residents of the slum had ever known. Where shoes were a luxury, school optional and dreams were of migrating to America or Europe, though few were lucky enough to make it.”
The theme of migration runs right through the novel, including a chapter near the end of the story that digresses into a long discussion between Aranha and an American Embassy spy about the roots of racism in the United States.
But people continue to make the best of things: “the viral melody of this living city. . .a familiar tapestry of night sounds. Pots clinking together blending with the sound of fireworks announcing a ship returning from the sea. Voices; loud music, slow, undulating and soft; laughter, male and female; and agitation, real and false.”
Retired Bloke Verdict: Monteiro largely succeeds in the ambition outlined in his Prologue. He places the problems of a small island nation within the context of global issues, and leads us through Cape Verde’s more recent history of revolution and war of independence, to help us understand how it reached this point. Unfortunately, there were a number of glaring errors of grammar, spelling and syntax in my Kindle edition.