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Black Mischief

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  2,380 Ratings  ·  140 Reviews
Black Mischief, " Waugh's third novel, helped to establish his reputation as a master satirist. Set on the fictional African island of Azania, the novel chronicles the efforts of Emperor Seth, assisted by the Englishman Basil Seal, to modernize his kingdom. Profound hilarity ensues from the issuance of homemade currency, the staging of a "Birth Control Gala, " the rightful ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published August 30th 2002 by Back Bay Books (first published 1932)
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Sep 01, 2013 Susan rated it really liked it
Although this is not my favourite novel by Waugh, it is undoubtedly an outrageously un-politically correct tale, set in an imagined African state. Waugh wrote the novel after a winter spent in East and Central Africa, which also resulted in a non-fiction work Remote People (Penguin Modern Classics). The imaginary state of Azania may be remote, but new Emperor, Seth, has been Oxford educated and is desperate to bring modernity to his confused population. "I am the New Age. I am the Future" he dec ...more
Jul 23, 2013 Feliks rated it it was amazing
Its a hoot from the very first page. Sustained hilarity from the first page to the last. A riot! An uproar! A scream! Its going on my 'laugh-out-loud' list.

You rarely see this level of comedy displayed in a novel. Its like one long, erudite, madcap Monty Python sketch. Narrated with utterly taut deadpan restraint. 'Black Mischief' is the very last word in making fun of colonialism. If you ever thought the English dry or humorless; read Waugh. This is truly the pillar underlying all the British
Nov 25, 2014 Sketchbook rated it it was amazing
Azania is the name of the country...a hot-diggity satire on the modern world which should, I hope, offend the Politically Correct...whose brains went into the cannibal pot. Now, can we pray ?
Mar 18, 2013 Nigeyb rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have previously really enjoyed 'Scoop', 'A Handful of Dust', and 'Decline and Fall', and had heard good things about this book. Primarily I had heard that it was very funny. Whilst it certainly has a few moments of laugh out loud hilarity overall I thought it was a somewhat incoherent and inconsistent read.

One of the most striking things for a modern reader is the incessant casual racism that peppers the book. That said it's mainly just racist epithets, although there are a few obvious stereo
Howard Olsen
Jul 13, 2008 Howard Olsen rated it really liked it

Waugh’s third novel is a departure from his first two classic satires of British society. For one thing, Black Mischief is largely set on the fictional East African island nation of Azania, although most of the characters are Brits. Second, Waugh actually has a plot that can be neatly summarized; namely that Basil Seal is a bit of a wastrel MP who travels to Azania where he hooks up with the Oxford educated Azanian Emperor Seth, who wants to bring Progressive Soviet-style governmen
Alice Handley
May 01, 2008 Alice Handley rated it really liked it
Totally hilarious but kind of embarassing to read on the bus in Oakland.
Florence Penrice
Mar 29, 2010 Florence Penrice rated it really liked it
What those who object to this book seem to miss is that NO ONE is immune to Waugh's satire. Everybody, apart from poor Seth, going mad amidst the chaos, is mercilessly ridiculed. It seems such a shame to miss the fun of the menu for the ball (with all the vitamin groups covered), and life in the diplomatic compound, for what seems to me to be a knee-jerk reaction.
Apr 23, 2008 Dfordoom rated it really liked it
Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief, published in 1932, recounts the unfortunate attempts of Seth, sovereign of the mythical East African Empire of Azania, to modernise his dominions. In this he is aided (although perhaps aided is the wrong word) by Basil Seal, an unscrupulous an incompetent English adventurer. Black Mischief has been accused of racism but in fact the British and French are lampooned every bit as mercilessly as the Africans. In other books Waugh gleefully ridiculed Americans as well ( ...more
Sep 25, 2014 Martin rated it really liked it
Re-read 08-September to 13-September-2016. Revised rating to 4 stars, down from 5.

Still very funny, still a great satire, but not 'Amazing'.

I read Remote People: A Report from Ethiopia & British Africa 1930-31, an excellent travel book Waugh wrote before Black Mischief, which was clearly mined for information and inspiration in writing this satire.

Another recommended read for you: Waugh in Abyssinia (1936).
Why not go all the way and read Waugh Abroad: Collected Travel Writing.
May 13, 2012 Sean rated it really liked it
Black Mischief is a ruthlessly witty sendup of modernization, colonization, uncivilized culture, civilized culture, and almost everything else. As one of Waugh's earlier novels, it lacks the miraculously beautiful prose of later writing (and I don't just mean Brideshead; even his mature comedies ascend into poetry at times) though there are glimmers of the greatness to come. It is, however, polished and wildly funny. I have always admired Waugh's knack for absolutely reveling in black humor wit ...more
From the standard of personal enjoyment, I would give this book a negative one star. I disliked and was bored by the "satire", the characters, the entire premise. The only reason I finished Black Mischief was because I was stuck on a plane and this was the only book I had with me.
However, gut instinct aside, I recognize this book has its clever moments. It was well crafted. The writing occasionally caught me up with its wittiness and style.
A total dud read in some ways, but worth more than one
Apr 21, 2017 Manab rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
বেশ ঘটা করে শুরু করলেও যত দিন গেছে তত বইটার আবেদন কমে গেলো মনে হয়।
সেই দিন যাওয়াকে আপনি বইটা পড়তে পড়তে কেটে যাওয়া সময় বিবেচনা করতে পারেন, ইভলিন ওয়া থেকে আজতক অবদিও বিবেচনা করতে পারেন। সেই তখন ওয়া সাহেবের যে চমক-জাগানিয়া কষমতা ছিলো, আজকের দিনে এসে সেই কষমতা সমভবত আর পূরববৎ জৌলুস ছড়াইতে পারে না। এনার ভাষা যেমন আধুনিক, এত আধুনিক যে নিজের সময়ের মনে হয়, তেমনি গলপটাও খেলে কম, কামড় দেয় কম, তার ফারসীয় বৈশিষটযগুলির এই কয়দিনে ধার কমে গেছে কিছুটা। অনুননত দেশের কষমতাসীনদের নিয়ে খোঁচা, হুঁ, দেখেছি আমরা আরও, য
Nov 05, 2012 Diana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Сблъсъкът между цивилизацията и варварския свят и интригите в борбата за трона са често повтаряни епизоди в историята, преексплоатирани в литературата и трудно биха предизвикали интерес или изненада. Но не и когато са поднесени от Ивлин Уо.

Измисленият от него остров Азания, сглобен от спомените му за местата в Африка, където е живял, приютява туземни племена и колоритни пришълци от цял свят. Докато е разтърсван от гражданска война, младият му император, оксфордски възпитаник, е твърдо решен да г
Dec 29, 2012 Val rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Evelyn Waugh travelled in several countries in East Africa. This novel is set in the fictitious island country of Azania, which is an amalgamation of several African countries and Waugh's imagination. He remorselessly satirises colonial officials who have no idea what is going on in the countries they are supposed to be administering, inept Western educated African leaders attempting to modernise their countries, corrupt opportunistic businessmen and even the 'bright young things' back home who ...more
Apr 03, 2013 Eric rated it it was ok
Dearest Evelyn, what to make of your uneven and thoroughly racist Black Mischief? Your apologists claim that it lampoons everyone, usually adding: "especially the Europeans", but there's a more than a shade of difference between aloof & irrelevant (Sir Sampson et al) and too stupid to civilize (Seth et al).

The quality of your writing is wonderful and there's plenty of laughs to be had in the first two thirds. Ultimately, however, the work collapses once you have to find some way to move to
Elizabeth Moffat
Jan 08, 2013 Elizabeth Moffat rated it it was ok
Shelves: byt
This is only the second book I have read of Waugh's and I appreciated his wit and satire indiscriminate of class, colour or race. However, some parts of the novel made me slightly uncomfortable although I enjoyed his writing style.

Please see my full review at
Dec 31, 2008 Alex rated it really liked it
Waugh is merciless and devastating.
Andrew Darling
Nov 10, 2012 Andrew Darling rated it really liked it
Evelyn Waugh admired P G Wodehouse immensely. In the sixties and seventies, Penguin rarely published an edition of a Wodehouse title without printing on the back cover Waugh’s endorsement of ‘Mr Wodehouse’s idyllic world … a world for us to live in and delight in.’ In some respects, the two writers were very similar. Both observed the same narrow social class of English people with a comic eye, but with one crucial difference; where Wodehouse’s portraits were primarily painted with a gentle and ...more
May 23, 2014 Realini rated it liked it
Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh

Instead of a spoiler alert- this could give you little information about Black Mischief and some idea about the thoughts of this reader when encountering the African emperors and characters of this book.

There is a tendency in all amateur reviewers to go beyond writing about someone else’s book and put in script personal emotions and feelings. That could make the difference between a resume and a review. There is also graphomania to consider and the tests that prove
Apr 17, 2011 Jason rated it really liked it
Simply hilarious. I kept wondering how it could be written by the same Evelyn Waugh who wrote Brideshead Revisited. Although Brideshead is the loftier and more ambitious work, the scathingly good satire of Black Mischief is clearly more Waugh's forte.

The book tracks the political upheavals of a fictitious independent African nation in the age of European imperialism and the efforts of the nation's Oxford-trained emperor to "modernize" his country. To bring his people into the 20th Century, the e
Mar 28, 2016 Ape rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
If you've ever read something and taken offence at an unpolitcally correct comment and thus been unable to finish said book - please don't read this. It is rather unpolitically correct and delights in playing up to countless stereotypes. The only thing that can be said is that Waugh is fair and no culture, ethnicity or group is free. Everyone is mocked.

There are some funny moments, funny comments and utterly non-pc names (General Connolly's wife for one), and there were a couple of points where
David Fulmer
Dec 24, 2013 David Fulmer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is English writer Evelyn Waugh’s third novel and its hilariously absurd story involving an East African graduate of Oxford who becomes emperor of a primitive island and attempts to modernize his backward people shows Waugh at the absolute peak of his comedic genius. Seth is the name of the emperor, or as he refers to himself in the formal and florid letters he dictates: “Seth, Emperor of Azania, Chief of the Chiefs of Sakuyu, Lord of Wanda and Tyrant of the Seas, Bachelor of the Arts of Oxf ...more
Aug 08, 2013 Owen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bit of an odd one, this. One of Waugh’s relatively early novels, you can see the similarities with the excellent Scoop. To the reader today, however, the racism jars. And of course one hopes it is ironic and that the writer is mocking it but, actually, he isn’t, I am afraid. There are many things he is mocking and he does so brilliantly, especially the insouciant complacency of the British upper class. But imperial prejudice against other races is not his target, sadly.

The story is essentially a
Lorenzo Berardi
I lost my track somewhere in Azania a couple of weeks ago.
Now it's all darkness around me.

What I can recall is that this novel has one of the most exhilarating and sarcastic beginnings I have ever found.

Quoting Waugh:
'We, Seth, Emperor of Azania, Chief of the Chiefs of Sakuyu, Lord of Wanda and Tyrant of the Seas, Bachelor of the Arts of Oxford University, being in this the twenty-fourth year of our life, summoned by the wisdom of Almighty God and the unanimous voice of our people to the thron
Chris Gould
Apr 05, 2012 Chris Gould rated it really liked it
Brilliant double-meaning in the title, and a brilliant story. It's hilarious, especially when forlorn young Emperor Seth, straight out of Oxford University, returns to his homeland and with the help of Basil Seal tries to explain the concept of contraception to his countrymen. He prepares these wonderful posters of a before and after image, in an attempt to illustrate the hardships suffered by families who have too many kids. Total failure to understand local culture, and the fact that posters a ...more
Aug 01, 2012 Daniel rated it liked it
A cacophonous shoeshine man once told me "Societal rancour is the stuff that really gets your cardiovascular system moving. How are we meant to stay heart-healthy if we can’t have a go at anyone?"

The shoeshine man later died, although not before joining the Lumpenproletariat, which (I suspect) was a personal life-long dream of his.

I believe that any of the so-called product of our doltish incapacity for defining who or what we are simply that: Product. Goods purchased or sold not based upon the
Jan 11, 2009 Gilly rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Classic Waugh: As always, he's a beautiful stylist, funny, erudite, insightful -- and very disturbing. The book is set in a fictional East African country. Waugh makes fun of clueless English colonialists, the way even the smartest of them don't understand what they're interfering with and ultimately do more harm than good, even to themselves. He makes fun of scheming French imperialists who blithely instigate massive destruction, of querulous Arab and self-serving Indian settlers, of African le ...more
Jun 11, 2014 Graham rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Evelyn Waugh is a great satirical writer and books such as 'Scoop', 'Officers and Gentlemen', and 'Men at Arms' draw upon caricatures of the upper classes and lampoon the society in which they move. 'Black Mischief' seeks to do the same thing with an emerging African republic in the 1930's. The various characters are well drawn, English and French ambassadors with their families and embassy staffs, tribal Chieftains with their entourages, and the situations which arise are at the very least humo ...more
Jan 18, 2016 Jeff rated it it was ok
I do not think this was a great novel. I do not think it was that funny. I see Waugh may be trying to satirize European colonial power in Africa but does so in a way that puts the Africans at the expense of a laugh. Sometimes, satire works for these global atrocities, but most of the time, it ends up insensitive and joins the Master Narrative. Waugh may think it hilarious that Europeans are so silly in colonial Africa, but he ultimately affirms their presence while neglecting the objectivity whi ...more
Aug 15, 2012 Peter rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even great writers have the sophomore blues. This had some quite funny moments, but the overall story was rather a downer. Some of the thematic elements of colonialism and empire were difficult to relate to, mostly because they relied too heavily on the specific thoughts/feelings of the time/place of 30s Britain. If those themes were conveyed in a way more easier to relate to it would have had more impact. Think "insert relevant gag from the current events here" only more serious satire about co ...more
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Evelyn Waugh's father Arthur was a noted editor and publisher. His only sibling Alec also became a writer of note. In fact, his book “The Loom of Youth” (1917) a novel about his old boarding school Sherborne caused Evelyn to be expelled from there and placed at Lancing College. He said of his time there, “…the whole of English education when I was brought up was to produce prose writers; it was al ...more
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“You know," he added reflectively, "we've got a much easier job now than we should have had fifty years ago. If we'd had to modernise a country then it would have meant constitutional monarchy, bicameral legislature, proportional representation, women's suffrage, independent judicature, freedom of the press, referendums . . ."

"What is all that?" asked the Emperor.

"Just a few ideas that have ceased to be modern.”
“We, Seth, Emperor of Azania, Chief of the Chiefs of Sakuyu, Lord of Wanda and Tyrant of the Seas, Bachelor of the Arts of Oxford University, being in this the twenty-fourth year of our life, summoned by the wisdom of Almighty God and the unanimous voice of our people to the throne of our ancestors, do hereby proclaim...” 1 likes
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