n February 2000, William Miles set off from Massachusetts for a Muslim village in West Africa with his tenyearold son Samuel to settle an inheritance dispute over a horse. National Public Radio was so intrigued with this story that All Things Considered broadcast his predeparture testament, as well as a followup commentary on what actually happened.My African Horse Problem recounts the intricacies of this unusual fatherson expedition, a sometimes harrowing twoweek trip that Samuel joined as “true heir” to the disputed stallion. It relates the circumstances leading up to the dispute and describes the intimacy of a relationship spanning a quarter century between William Miles and the custodians of his family horse—Islamic village friends eking out a precarious existence along the remote subSaharan borderline between Nigeria and Niger. My African Horse Problem is a multilayered narrative—part memoir, part ethnography—reaching back to Miles’s days as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger in the 1970s and a Fulbright scholar in the 1980s. At a deeper level, the story juxtaposes the idealistic and sometimes irresponsible tendencies of a young university graduate with the parental concerns of a middleaged, tenured professor. Miles wonders if he was justified in exposing Sam to some of the worst health risks on earth, mainly to restore tenuous ties with longago friends in the African bush. Was it reckless to make his son illegally cross international boundaries, in a quixotic quest for justice and family honor? My African Horse Problem is more than an adventurer’s tale with a unique story line: it is a fatherson travel rumination, leavened by Sam’s journal entries that help his father see Africa anew through a child’s fresh eyes. In this era of religious and racial tensions, it is also a reaffirmation—within a black Muslim context—of the basic human imperative of trust.
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