WHITES by Norman Rush (Knopf: $14.95). The white man's burden is, in fact, his bewilderment: his inability to understand Africans; his confused but ingrown bigotry based on centuries of colonialism, and his attempt to make his own mores the accepted manners for brand new nations built upon old tribal cultures.
Such bewilderment--often comic, usually condescending and occasionally murderous--is the stuff of six short stories by Norman Rush, an American who spent the late '70s and early '80s as a Peace Corps emissary in Botswana, one of those new nations rimming the apartheid enclave of South Africa.
Meet Carl, one of the "Official Americans" who deafens himself because he has no diplomatic weapons for dealing with his neighbor's noisy dogs, not when those dogs belong to the Minister of Labor. Learn to despise Tom in "Near Pala," a man who refuses to stop his car for girls begging water along the roadside. Admire Ione, the middle-aged seductress from "Alone in Africa" and other stories, a woman who learns for herself rather than from the foreign service. The burden, throughout, is more generally for white men than women.
Rush is both stylist and sympathetic spirit, trying to fill a chasm of bewilderment and smugness with empathy and simple good works. His fictional characters--especially the ones trapped in pale skin--carry that message with grace.