Global Etiquette

An author’s choice of a book within a book is never arbitrary, and in “Houseboys” Bill Barich lingers on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The novel’s drama emerges from fissures in the complicated system of etiquette that rules her characters’ lives. Barich uses a similar technique, detailing the differences of manner and custom between Peace Corps volunteers and Nigerian students and servants. When Nigeria’s national drama can no longer be contained in the world of etiquette, an ethnic cleansing occurs. The objectivity with which Barich describes the horror compels us to consider the presence of a “deep, bitter, and irrational hatred” that denies the apparent safety of manners.

—Matt Wagstaffe

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