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The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  346 ratings  ·  74 reviews
When Mavala Shikongo deserted them, the teachers at the boys' school in Goas weren't surprised. How could they be? She was too beautiful, too powerful, and too mysterious for their tiny, remote, and arid world. They knew only one essential fact about their departed colleague: she was a combat veteran of Namibia's brutal war for independence. When Mavala returns to Goas wit ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 16th 2007 by Back Bay Books (first published 2006)
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3.75  · 
Rating details
 ·  346 ratings  ·  74 reviews

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Sep 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2007
Spectacular, magnificent, stunning--all the big-time adjectives you can think up, this book deserves them. It’s a beautiful, hilarious, heartbreaking novel—one of those books that, as I was reading it I was thinking yes, yes, this is why I read, this is what I’ve been looking for.

I felt weak with joy and sadness and longing reading this book, and I still feel those things right now, just thinking of Obadiah and Auntie and Tomo and Theofilus. Oh, Theofilus!

Lowell’s not messing around with those
Jul 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: alive
There's a character "so reliably duplicitous he circles back around to trustworthy." Cows eat sand. An endless desert surrounding a school is speckled with "bony trees." Peter Orner does more with a collection of dusty yellow buildings than most writers could with a metropolis. The only slip of grass at the school is referred to as "Ireland" by the principal, the sky, "the color of watered-down milk." Orner's is a fancy and utterly unique voice.

Taken from a review in the Boise Weekly:
Robert Wechsler
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-lit
A truly unbelievable, courageous adventure in storytelling. Via a wide variety of vignettes, many of which contain stories within them, a young, white American breaks one literary convention after another while flirting with the politically incorrect in a way that makes it beside the point. With the exception of the narrator and the title character’s comings and goings, almost nothing happens in this book, making plot too beside the point. Memoir anyone? Not much of it here, despite the narrator ...more
Dec 21, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quiet, quick, well-written, guiltless pleasure. Orner's narrative is upfront about its outsider's perspective. It's a sensitive man's romance with a woman and a village, but his writing respectably avoids the Memoirs-of-a-Geisha-style saccharine orientalism. I was engrossed, but I can see where the fractured story-telling device was leaned on just a bit too heavily - as much as the brevity lends to the tale's texture, the constant breaks in narrative seem to prevent the writing from delving de ...more
Lowell Brower
May 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: YOU!
Easily my favorite novel of the last couple of years, and by far the most gorgeously written. Also it's populated by the most entertaining group of weirdos I've come across since Cannery Row or something like that. On top of all this it's pleasingly weird in structure (154 chapters in 300 pages!), and totally hilarious when it wants to be. Oh yeah, and it takes place at a near-defunct missionary school in the middle of the Namib Desert. Read it!!!!
I'm just not all that into you at the moment, and you are due back at the library. :(
Marianne van der Heijden
In Nederlandse vertaling van Esther Ottens: " De terugkeer van Mavala Shikongo".
Prachtig boek, verhaalt belevenissen rondom de hoofdpersoon, een Amerikaan die als vrijwilliger op een dorpsschool in Namibië werkt, redelijk kort na de bevrijding in 1990. Het boek vertelt uit de perspectieven van de verschillende spelers en geeft een gaaf beeld van het alledaagse leven in een door droogte en hitte en leegte geteisterde gemeenschap, waar ook de raciale spanningen nog levendig zijn. Je krijgt een ide
Mike Renn
Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
It took a little time to get into it because of the format, but I liked it.
Nov 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
Out in the Namibian veld, where three dry rivers meet at Farm Goas, Larry Kaplanski from Cincinnati shows up at the Native School and humbly presents himself as a volunteer. For his welcome, the priest pronounces him a pagan, and the corrupt principal says he would have preferred cash, but since there doesn't seem to be anyone else willing, assigns Larry to teach English and History.

Larry moves into the singles quarters, where the story gives way to his fellow teachers' idiosyncrasies — Obadiah
This book gave you a lot history wise (colonialism, civil wars).

The second bit, it was hilarious. The characters were hilarious.

Auntie, who doesn't teach at the school, but some and steals and takes stuff brazenly.

Krieger, the neighboring Swed? German? 'a fluffly-white-haired honking murderous Santa bellowing 'Hallooo! halloo!" nearly running down the kids at play with his vehicle as he drives straight through the school ground.

Pohamba, who seems satisfied to argue about almost anything for arg
Apr 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
lowell and elizabeth have written perfect reviews
i'm not sure this is legal, but...
here's lowell's--
Easily my favorite novel of the last couple of years, and by far the most gorgeously written. Also it's populated by the most entertaining group of weirdos I've come across since Cannery Row or something like that. On top of all this it's pleasingly weird in structure (154 chapters in 300 pages!), and totally hilarious when it wants to be. Oh yeah, and it takes place at a near-defunct missionary s
Andrea Sartorati
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Il mal d'Africa, che spesso colpisce chi - specie fra gli appartenenti alla civiltà pomposamente definita più evoluta - si imbatte nel grande continente nero, rischia nella letteratura di tramutarsi da un lato nel più classico del pietismo e dall'altro in una serie di esotici stereotipi.

Non è affatto il caso di questo diario fatto di frammenti di vita minuscoli di un professore americano, volontario in una scuola rurale ai margini del deserto della Namibia.

Non c'è una storia in questi micro-rac
Jun 23, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This was an unusual one. The author writes in very short chapters, but he evokes the steamy, languid and yearning atmosphere of an ragtag group of people working and residing at a remote Catholic boys' school in the desert of Namibia during a time of drought.

The main narrator is an American man from Ohio who finds himself among an odd group of native Africans of varying backgrounds, ages and situations. Some are married, some are single, some are childless. None seem to have very much money or
Jesse Bacon
Jun 07, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the bored, eager peace corps volunteers, Seinfeld fans
This book, which my partner got from the library, was surprisingly a good read about nothing. Specifically, it's a kind of Lost in Translation without the mean streak that follows a Jewish volunteer teacher all the way to Namibia where he does nothing much. Subveting both the heroic foreigner and inspirational teacher tropes, this is much closer in spirit to the new movie Chalk, where many of the teachers are just trying to kill time. The students barely register, except two who appear out of no ...more
Sep 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Peter Orner’s The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo was one of those books I thought about while I was at work and looked forward to reading when I got home. It wasn’t that I was eager to find out what was going to happen to Kaplansk and Mavala – “what’s going to happen” isn’t really what’s at stake in the novel. Mavala Shikongo is built around tension rather than conflict, as are a lot of great poems. So if I wasn’t caught up in a riveting plot, what was it that made me want to keep reading? The ...more
Jul 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sparse but beautiful writing. It took me a moment to get into this book, but once I was won over, I couldn't put it down. How Orner managed to create such complete characterizations with so few words is a mystery to me; yet the people who populate this book feel known to me in a way that I don't even know myself. I quote a NYTimes review that states: "As Orner unspools their quirks through sharp, eccentric dialogue and interior asides, his characters grow distinct without ever becoming Gothic. H ...more
Jul 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book is somehow spare, dusty, and surreal. It creates (or describes?) a world that is recognizable yet completely foreign. Through the use of short chapters, with sudden shots of perspective, story, and other verbage, he tells a story about a place where nothing happens on the surface, but too many things happen below ground. I have no idea how true it is to the country of Namibia, or the situation of boys' boarding schools, or the struggles against colonialism, but it has a strong sense of ...more
Apr 24, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Orner's novel comprises character sketches at an isolated boys' school in the Namibian veld. It's not about plot. The very short chapters--sometimes just a paragraph and at most a couple of pages--are an unusual choice for a novel; they don't really stand alone, but they don't really form a cohesive whole either. Orner does a good job of depicting the various characters through stories they tell each other and the observance of their everyday life--variously touching and humorous. However, those ...more
Jul 28, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lisa P and Lisa B, Jim C
Recommended to Lauren by: my mom
A wonderful engaging book - very different from the usual white teacher comes to Africa with much wisdom to impart. Young Jewish Larry Kaplansky lands at a run down mission school in the middle of the Nambibian nowhere. His colleagues are an engaging bunch, there's a drought, a neighboring farmer sells vegetables, a piano arrives. There is boredom, joy, sorrow, mystery, and more boredom. The story - or what there is of it - is told in brief, sometimes single paragraph chapters, but it builds lik ...more
Aug 22, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shirley Freeman
This is yet another book and author to whom I was introduced at the Festival of Faith and Writing. The novel is written as a series of vignettes from one paragraph to 2-3 pages each. The setting is a boys school located on hard-to-reach farm land in post-independence Namibia. The narrator (of sorts) is a young white man from Cincinnati who is a volunteer teacher at the school. Mavala Shikongo is a former fighter, now teacher, with some mystery in her past. The other characters are wonderfully dr ...more
May 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: namibia
I warmed up to this book slowly and - by the end - found it beautiful and very sad. An American man - about whom we learn very little - turns up (accidently?) at a boarding school in very rural Namibia. The exact year is never revealed but it is post-apartheid, post civil war. The country is experiencing drought, the school is rather forgotten. The pain is in a country and the citizens recovering from apartheid and a brutal civil war. The teachers deal with the pain of recovery by telling storie ...more
Oct 23, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I got to page 78 and that was enough. This book was too boring and disjointed. Just write a good story, for heaven's sake and stop trying to create a new way of writing it! How books like this get published is beyond me! For every one like this, I think how many really good ones are passed over! I was SO looking forward to reading this book, by the blurb on the back cover. I'm moving on...too many other really good books out there to waste my time on this nonsense.
Nov 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this novel inspired by Orner's time teaching in a rural Catholic mission in Namibia. Initially, the structure - very short chapters with the story unfolding from different character's perspective - made it difficult to connect the plot lines. As I read it dawned on me that plot is really not the point of this work. There are amazing characters, great humor, and absolutely gorgeous writing.
Apr 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who don't read much fiction
Shelves: fiction
I don't normally read a lot of fiction, and I believe I added this to my to-read list based on its inclusion in's "best of 2006" list (or something like that). I definitely wasn't disappointed; it's not a plot-driven book in the least, but is incredibly evocative of a very foreign atmosphere. Characters are eccentric enough to be entertaining, but not so broadly drawn that they are two-dimensional caricatures. It's a nice book to sit down and steep in for a while.
Nov 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Peace Corps folks, readers who want a new vantage point
5 stars is bold, yes, but this was one of my favorite books of the year. He takes a very simple topic and hands it over to the reader in a really different way... His character portrayal is phenomenal. He takes the romantic notion out of far away places, yet by illustrating their complexities so well, he throws the romanticism right back in there.
Connie Mayo
Plot. There's this thing called plot. It's really great. Books should have it. I don't know why this one doesn't.

I give it two stars instead of one because the writing is good and in parts really beautiful. If it were marketed as something other than a novel, at least people would be forewarned that there is no story.
Jan 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant subject: A naive, idealistic American teacher confronts a post-colonial Namibia full of vivid characters and dramatic deprivations. Brilliant style: the plot advances sneakily through short, snippets (a couple pages max) that function like tableau vivants, displaying different aspects of the story.

Feb 21, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A series of vignettes about a US college grad who goes to teach in rural Namibia. Definately gives a great sense of how boring and slow life is out there, but as a reader I felt like nothing really happened in this book. Some great characters in his co-workers but this book just seemed kind of listless.
Dec 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A gorgeous, original novel that is set in a far-out Namibian boys school and the American teacher who finds himself there. It's so interestingly written (short chapters, multiple points of view, slightly unclear passing of time) and super compelling. I really recommend it. It's out in paperback now. But the paperback cover is not the one that is showing. I'll see if I can find that one.
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Peter Orner was born in Chicago and is the author of three novels: Esther Stories (Houghton Mifflin, 2001), The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo (Little, Brown, 2006), and his most recent, Love and Shame and Love (Little, Brown, 2011) which was recently called epic by Daniel Handler, "...epic like Gilgamesh, epic like a guitar solo." (Orner has since bought Gilgamesh and is enjoying it.) Love and ...more