The torturous road to The Tanzania Conspiracy

The torturous road to The Tanzania Conspiracy

Posted on January 3 by Mario Bolduc in Non-fiction, Recent Releases
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At the end of 1993, I was travelling in Kenya with my girlfriend. During a stopover in Mombasa, we walked to an industrial section of the city overlooking the port. Because it was Sunday, everything was quiet, but we noticed an old dhow anchored away from the docks. From our position, we could distinguish a large group of people crammed on the deck, trying to protect themselves from the hot midday sun. Adults, children… Somalis, we learned.

These refugees had escaped the civil war. Their objective: to reach Mombasa, the main Kenyan port south of Somalia. “But why don’t they come ashore?” we asked a bystander. “Because it’s Sunday,” he answered. “Customs offices are closed – they’ll have to wait on Monday to have their situation reviewed and be able to land.”

I kept thinking about this perfect example of bureaucratic stupidity long after our return to Canada. In 2011, when I chose to set Max O’Brien’s next adventure in Africa, I remembered that scene and decided to use it as the opening sequence of the novel. But I couldn’t find a way to include my hero in a story that would deal with the migration issue. I didn’t know how to address this topic in my new book. Every angle I tried felt unsatisfactory. I knew I had to search for something else.

At the same time, I was intrigued by the resurgence of piracy around the Red Sea. Maybe I could tie in the Somali civil war, the pirates, and the refugees of Mombasa in a crime novel that would involve Max one way or another.

But I still couldn’t find the right angle to tackle these elements. I wrote pages and pages that went nowhere. Nevertheless, I wanted Max to be entangled in a story taking place in Africa. After exploring different ideas, I became interested in the fate of the people with albinism. In certain regions of Africa, they were the victims of traffickers and witch doctors, who sold parts of their bodies as good-luck charms or healing tools.

As I pursued my research, I was stunned by the scope of this disgusting business from another era – that was still ongoing today even as Africa was being modernized at great speed. Superstitions from the past hadn’t disappeared with urbanization and the rise of the standard of living. Witch doctors had not vanished – they had just adapted their field of activity to their new customers. One thing remained recurrent: the persecution of people with albinism.

I chose Tanzania as the backdrop of my story because the Tanzanian government was trying to eradicate these practices, though without success. The political history of Tanzania could be linked to this theme, including its relations with Uganda and other countries. All this convinced me that the Lake Victoria region would be the perfect location to send Max O’Brien to solve the murder of a loved one.

I also thought his involvement in such a story could shed light on the cruel fate of people with albinism in Africa and the dedicated individuals who help them survive and lead a normal existence despite their precarious situation.

Much like travel, sometimes the road to a new novel takes surprising – and often frustrating – paths, but ultimately reveals a fresh outlook.

Mario Bolduc

Posted by Dundurn Guest on September 2, 2015
Mario Bolduc photo

Mario Bolduc

Screenwriter Mario Bolduc has written three novels featuring Max O’Brien, originally published in French. The Kashmir Trap starts the series and Tsiganes (The Roma Plot) won the 2008 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Book in French. Mario lives in Montreal.