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The Coup by John Updike

The Coup (1978)

by John Updike

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651622,770 (3.35)9
The Coup describes violent events in the imaginary African nation of Kush, a large, landlocked, drought-ridden, sub-Saharan country led by Colonel Hakim Félix Ellelloû. ("A leader," writes Colonel Ellelloû, "is one who, out of madness or goodness, takes upon himself the woe of a people. There are few men so foolish.") Colonel Ellelloû has four wives, a silver Mercedes, and a fanatic aversion--cultural, ideological, and personal--to the United States. But the U.S. keeps creeping into Kush, and the repercussions of this incursion constitute the events of the novel. Colonel Ellelloû tells his own story--always elegantly, and often in the third person--from an undisclosed location in the South of France. From the Trade Paperback edition.… (more)
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Showing 5 of 5
A postcolonial novel par excellence. ( )
  benjamin.lima | Mar 21, 2016 |
Darkly humorous look at the turmoil of Cold-War Africa. Muslim Marxists in silver Mercedes, Americana, need I go on? ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 29, 2013 |
In honor of John Updike’s passing, I decided to have a go at the one big-name book from his writing prime that I’d never read: The Coup. And I’m certainly glad I did.

Writing in the mid-1970s, Updike breaks away from his typical fascination with skanky suburban housewives, and takes his readers along on a sometimes-bizarre but always lyrical journey to an imaginary African country, seen through the eyes of its erstwhile Islamic Marxist dictator.

Colonel Ellellou, said potentate, is a marvelous satiric creation. Educated in part in Wisconsin, of all places, Ellellou spends much of the novel visiting his four wives and one mistress. One of these wives is a nice white middle-class Midwestern girl who’s swept away by the romance and ideological impact of marrying an exotic African student who’s well-connected back in his homeland. Updike's insights into this relationship are particularly tragicomic and poignant.

The best part of the novel follows Ellellou as he goes on a kind of camel-intensive road trip to his country’s deepest and most isolated badlands, where revelation awaits him.

As the story progresses, Updike builds a quite pointed critique of ‘big man’ African dictatorships in the post-colonial era, and of the twin follies of western and Soviet ‘aid’ efforts in Africa.

It's likely that Updike could not even have published this book today. The parts of the book that satirize Islam would likely have left it languishing in a publisher’s limbo. ( )
1 vote mrtall | Feb 22, 2009 |
Words, words words. It has technique, but lacks what Bruce Lee, in that first scene of "Enter the Dragon," describes as 'emotional content.' I stopped after the first 50 pages. Maybe I'll come back to it, but I doubt it.

1 vote ben_a | Dec 30, 2007 |
Colonel Elleloû, leader of the islamic-marxian republic of 'noire', is torm to pieces. Part of his personality is westernized (due to a study in the USA), but another part longs for the old ways, tradition, embodied in the islam, but also his hatred for materialism. Still another part of his personality just cries for his land, dying because of a severe drought. And lets not forget his personal trouble, due to having married four women.
The book plays out a sequence of events starting with the Colonel at the pinnacle of his power, and ending with his exile. In between the colonel travels incognito through his country and makes a spiritual inner journey.
In a way a prophetic book,which shows the difficulties of integrating tradition, islam and the modern world, written just before the fall of the Shah and many years before 911. An example: 'When it comes to battle the poor retain a golden weapon: they have little to lose. Their lives are a shabby anteroom in the palace of the afterlife. The Phrophet's vivid Paradise is our atomic bomb.'
I am not a real fan of Updike, mostly because of his style: I find him sometimes difficult to read (complex sentences), but I definitely liked this book. ( )
1 vote tsutsik | Dec 24, 2007 |
Showing 5 of 5
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Does there not pass over man a space of time when his life is a blank? --The Koran, sura 76.
To my Mother

fellow writer & lover of far lands
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My country of Kush, landlocked between the mongrelized, neo-capitalist puppet states of Zanj and Sahel, is small for Africa, though larger than any two nations of Europe.
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