One Man Dancing is a harrowing tale of integrity and endurance. Based on the true story of a young actor growing into artistic maturity in Uganda during the murderous regime of dictator Idi Amin, the action moves in and out of Africa through bizarre encounters with mysterious CIA-like figures and the international world of theatre. Trying to maintain his personal sanity while remaining true to his art, Charles collides constantly with political violence and natural disaster. It is a capricious fate that bounces him from Uganda to Jamaica, from Scandinavia to Canada and back again through this novel of risk and freedom, of political mystery and ultimately through the unravelling of this myth about theatre and faith.
“One Man Dancing is a sympathetic account of Uganda’s troubled post-colonial history and a paean to the heroic figures who struggled to resist the regime and retain their own dignity during tumultuous times while Idi Amin was descending more deeply into barbarism. At the level of history, it’s a chilling story, but it’s also a fascinating study of the role of art in addressing political realities. Patricia Keeney’s account of this struggle is brimming with Eros and Thanatos—the violence, intrigue, passion and deadly love-muddle—inevitable bi-products of living in this world.”
—Gary Geddes, author of Drink the Bitter Root and The Resumption of Play
“This moving story of an African dancer whispers rage in every line. A handbook for future generations interested in African politics, it is also a story of love and the theatre company that inspired it as well as a story of home-grown African dictators and their armies. Though set in the Uganda of Idi Amin, this book is about butchers all across the continent who are unable to face Truth. It is a story of power walking out of a theatre in fury. As an artist who has personally experienced torture, as an African man, I can say that this Canadian woman, Patricia Keeney, has miraculously told only the Truth in this wonderful novel about art and artists.”
—Debebe Eshetu, Former Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, and Founding President of the Union of African Performing Artists
“Africa's theatrical secrets are starting to get out and we are all the better for it. Uganda's myth-based Abafumi theatre company toured the world in the 1970s to international acclaim while Idi Amin tried to face them down at home. This clash is at the centre of Patricia Keeney's fine new novel based on the true story of one of the company's leading performers and his struggles to survive. Well worth-reading for those who know Africa and its theatre and especially good reading for those who are meeting it for the first time.”
—Prof. Emmanuel S. Dandaura, President, Nigerian Centre, International Theatre Institute
Patricia Keeney is a widely published Canadian poet, novelist and critic with translations of her work published in France, Mexico, China, Bulgaria, South Africa and India among others. She is the author of ten books of poetry, and a picaresque novel entitled, The Incredible Shrinking Wife (1996). In addition to her creative work, she is also a Professor of English and Creative Writing at York University in Toronto where she offers courses on Canadian Literature, Women in Literature and related subjects and conducts regular workshops in poetry and mixed genre writing. She makes her home in a 150-year-old log house an hour north of Toronto.
This is Charles’ story. The story of an African man told
by a North American woman. What he asked me to tell.
What he let me see. What I saw.
I don’t pretend to understand it all. Or know it all. I
cannot reveal its meaning in an easy phrase. As though any
phrase can express the meaning of a life.
Can explain why some of us are allowed health and good
fortune while others suffer every kind of physical and social
assault. Why some of us are spared. Why some of us are
singled out to be victims.
Like Job, tested again and again.
Why some of us keep struggling in the face of existential
indifference and caprice.
Like Charles. Always believing in some ultimate purpose.
He stands alone. A man marooned on a mountain.
Frozen in shock. Staring out. Swaying slightly.
Time is his god here, keeping him rigorously attentive
to the shifting of glacial moments. On top of this treacherous
mountain Charles is a martyr to his own rigid limbs.
Extreme exertion put him here, outrunning fear. Every
morning he climbs the same mountain of ice, clawing at its
hard face, willing himself up, desperate not to fall down.
A small wheeled machine whirs below him in this cold,
impersonal meat-packing plant. It is fast, darting at the
great glinting rock, attacking it block by block, biting
off chunks, chewing, swallowing. Relentless. Shrinking
As he pounds and splinters with axe and spade at the
top of ice mountain, black against white, he dances and
slips, drops. His sleek dark body churning, frigid, hurtling
down a giant slide into frozen whiteness.