★★★★★ In 1961, Ken Verrier is a sophomore studying physics at Cornell when his brother, Arthur, dies unexpectedly in a car accident. Wracked with blame, Ken can’t seem to forgive himself for the fact that Arthur was on his way to pick him up from a party when it happened. Deciding he needs a change, Ken works out a plan to spend some time in West Africa and put his commercial pilot’s license to good use. His father helps him land on Liberia, which, at the time, was quickly developing into a booming hub for commerce—and with that, he’s off. Initially, Liberian life takes a lot of getting used to, but after settling in, Ken learns how to adapt to Africa’s numerous daily obstacles, whether it’s political bribery, dubious roommates, or insect-borne diseases. Throughout Ken’s seven years there, he flies countless air transports, leading to humorous and horrifying altercations alike, and lending an intimate look at Liberia’s rapidly changing economic and social climate that few others at the time were granted.
Daniel Meier Jr.’s The Dung Beetles of Liberia is packed with artful and observant touches that will firmly plant readers inside Liberia’s tumultuous environment. Endless elements of description lend warmth—and in some cases, terror—to a cast of charmingly idiosyncratic characters hailing from all over the world. At heart, the novel is a study in contrasts, asking us to examine what it means to be safe or in harm’s way, rich or poor, lost or found, and how, in time, those categorizations come to inform our entire worldview. This story is for anyone who has ever felt the relentless pull of wanderlust, and wondered what it would be like to lose themselves entirely in another land.