BRIGHT LIGHTS, NO CITY. By Max Alexander. Hyperion. 375 pages. $24.99.
Let’s say a writer goes to Ghana to help his brother launch a for-profit business renting batteries to people who live in the bush off the electric grid.
No, for real. That’s “Bright Lights, No City,” every bit of “An African Adventure on Bad Roads With a Brother and a Very Weird Business Plan” as its subtitle teases.
But the brother is Whit Alexander, who among other business successes helped create the board game Cranium. Alexander wants to start up a locally run venture that supplies a need for low-income families who live in the bush, and make some money doing it.
It’s part bush odyssey, part “Our Home Business” reality show. The stumbles, fumbles, roadblocks (for real) and wild learning curve make for a ride that veers from antic to poignant. Max Alexander’s storytelling bumps along at a pace as jarring as the potholed roads the brothers travel making their sales.
Don’t bring along the usual preconceptions or misconceptions about West Africa for this jaunt: “Charlie was capable of maintaining a straight face through this kind of wise-guy routine for a long time. It seemed an odd way to engage potential customers in an important new test market, but who was I to question Ghanaian business manners? Often, late at night sitting on the veranda, I would hear Ghanaian men down in the street, quarreling strenuously ... the tone always suggested violence was imminent. Yet every time — just as I braced for the dull clang of machetes, followed by police sirens, the wails of the wounded, and the collection of stray body parts in the street — the tone changed to laughter.”
All you really need is a re-chargeable sense of humor. Battery powered.
Reviewer Bo Peterson is an environmental reporter for The Post and Courier.