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March 21, 1993|CHARLES SOLOMON

NATIVE STRANGER: A Black American's Journey Into the Heart of Africa by Eddy L. Harris (Vintage: $12; 315 pp.). Eddy Harris' journal describes how he discovered his identity as an American in a foreign land: "In the imaginings of every person with black skin, Africa is a place of wonder, a place of return, rumored since childhood and seen as a place filled with promises of black dignity and rich with a sense of belonging." Although he was charmed by the hospitality and beauty of men and women he encountered, he was appalled at the spectacle of people living in dire poverty while tin-pot dictators squandered fortunes on palaces and other folies de grandeur. He recounts forcing himself to swallow nondescript foods, witnessing the effects of gruesome diseases, battling the inefficiency of crumbling infrastructures, and being reduced to impotent rage by corrupt officials. Harris is not the first black writer to wrestle with questions of African-American versus African identity, but he does so in moving, straightforward prose.

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