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Bingo's Run
Cover of Bingo's Run
Bingo's Run
A Novel
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For fans of Dave Eggers, Teju Cole, and James McBride, comes this extraordinary novel of morality and the redemptive powers of art that offers a glimpse into an African underworld rarely described in...
For fans of Dave Eggers, Teju Cole, and James McBride, comes this extraordinary novel of morality and the redemptive powers of art that offers a glimpse into an African underworld rarely described in...
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  • For fans of Dave Eggers, Teju Cole, and James McBride, comes this extraordinary novel of morality and the redemptive powers of art that offers a glimpse into an African underworld rarely described in fiction. 
    Meet Bingo, the greatest drug runner in the slums of Kibera, Nairobi, and maybe the world. A teenage grifter, often mistaken for a younger boy, he faithfully serves Wolf, the drug lord of Kibera. Bingo spends his days throwing rocks at Krazi Hari, the prophet of Kibera’s garbage mound, “lipping” safari tourists of their cash, and hanging out with his best friend, Slo-George, a taciturn fellow whose girth is a mystery to Bingo in a place where there is never enough food. Bingo earns his keep by running “white” to a host of clients, including Thomas Hunsa, a reclusive artist whose paintings, rooted in African tradition, move him. But when Bingo witnesses a drug-related murder and Wolf sends him to an orphanage for “protection,” Bingo’s life changes and he learns that life itself is the “run.”
     
    A modern trickster tale that draws on African folklore, Bingo’s Run is a wildly original, often very funny, and always moving story of a boy alone in a corrupt and dangerous world who must depend on his wits and inner resources to survive.
    ONE OF LIBRARY JOURNAL’S OUTSTANDING NEW VOICES TO CONSIDER
     
    “Bingo’s voice guides us; by turns he is aggressive, confident, smart, cynical, but also naive. Bingo tosses his observations at us with great urgency, almost percussively, in a staccato manner that recalls gunshots. And though he’s blunt, he’s also a sensitive observer. . . . Levine is creating a sense of an entire world, raffish and fast. . . . The larger story Levine is telling . . . is the story of a person’s mind, and of the good, bad, and indifferent forces that make him what he is—and that story is told with compassion and intelligence.”The Boston Globe
    “James A. Levine is a deeply gifted writer who reaches into the dirt, sweat, and diesel of modern-day Nairobi and introduces us to a young innocent whose adventures are unforgettable. Bingo’s runs between joy and death, laughter and sorrow, survival and redemption, will make you feel like cheering.”—James McBride, author of The Good Lord Bird and The Color of Water
     
    Bingo’s Run is one of those rare books that infuse a potentially difficult subject with intimacy, tenderness, and humor. Social commentary, gritty comedy, and pure cinematic adrenaline meet in an utterly compelling novel with a voice all its own.”—Tash Aw, author of Five Star Billionaire
     
    Bingo’s Run manages to read like timely news and high adventure at the same time. Levine’s main character, Bingo, is an underage drug runner, hardened orphan, and hustler extraordinaire. He’s also funny and wise well beyond his years. The rousing story of Bingo’s evolution is matched only by Levine’s portrait of modern-day Nairobi, both child and city depicted with real flair and affection.”—Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver
     
    “Bingo is a fascinating and inimitably likable character. Levine, a Mayo clinic professor of medicine and well-known child advocate, excels at telling his adventurous, comic, and realistically gritty story with humor but not with pathos, successfully addressing the harsh and sometimes tragic story of a child at risk.”Library...
 

Awards-

Excerpts-

  • Chapter 1 Chapter 1

    Bingo Mwolo, the Greatest Runner in Kibera, Nairobi, and Probably the World

    Krazi Hari was the only person I didn't mind calling me Meejit, because he was crazy. As me and Slo-George walked along the East Wall that surrounded the Kibera slum, I looked across the three-hundred-yard mound of garbage and there, as ever, was Krazi Hari, black as char, tall as heaven, hair wild as a riot. He sat on top of the mountain, his temple, surrounded by flies—his disciples—and, as always, he read. It was sometimes a label from a can or a shred of newspaper, but whatever it was Krazi Hari read it. "Hey, Krazi Hari," I shouted. "What da fook iz ya readin', ya?"

    Krazi Hari looked up. The swarm of flies that cloaked him stopped their buzzing for a short second. He looked at me and Slo-George and shouted, "Meejit. Who's ya callin' Krazi, ya. Ya don' even know ya arse-wipin' hand from ya wankin' one. An' as for that half-brain fook-head with ya, he can hardly 'member what leg goes in fron' of tha nex'." With that, he burst out laughing the way only the insane do. Krazi Hari was right about one thing: Slo-George did only have half a brain.

    "That Krazi fooka," I said to Slo-George as we stepped across the trail of garbage that was Krazi Hari's home. I looked down at the mix of paper, plastic, medicine packets, old food, rubble, and black rotting filth. It felt warm on my bare feet. Scrawny dogs, women, and children sniffed over the gigantic dump, but there were no rats—they come out only at night.

    Me and Slo-George turned right through the break in the gray stone wall and entered Kibera proper. We walked down the red-sand path, and Slo-George grunted at me. Grunts were his main way of talking. Slo-George, like everyone over the age of six, was much taller than me. But what amazed me about Slo-George was that he was fat. In fact, Slo-George was the only fat man I knew. "Georgi," I would ask, "how da fook did ya get sa fat?" Slo-George always answered with a grunt. I rarely saw Slo-George eat; Kibera is a place where a person gets cut for food. His fat, like his age, was a mystery. Some people said Slo-George was sixteen; others said he was thirty. It did not matter, for, however old his brain was, only half of it worked.

    It was filthy hot. We walked slowly down the East Gate Path that cut through the slum, a half-brain and a midget. In actual fact, I am a growth retard.

    Wanjiru, Wolf's general and chief debt collector, spotted us. He barked, "Meejit, where da fook ya been? Wolf need ya." Wanjiru was called Dog, even to his face. This was because half his nose was gone. The rumor was that when he was a boy a dog attacked him and bit off half his nose. No one ever asked him, because everyone was afraid of him; Dog loved violence the way women love bangles. Dog had a gun in his belt, but most of the time he did his business with his hands. Dog did not kill everyone he visited. Some lived, but for them the difference between living and dying was difficult to tell. One time he said, "It's ma art."

    While Dog waited for an answer, he breathed through his bit-off nose. Even Dog's breathing was violent—air feared him and he breathed it.

    I shouted back at him, "Dog Sa, I'z go to Wolf now, ya."

    Dog nodded and scampered away.

    I said to Slo-George, "Georgi, get ya lata."

    Grunt.

    I ran to Wolf's office; I had work.

    Wolf ruled half of Nairobi's drug business from deep inside the Kibera slum. The head boss was Boss Jonni, who lived downtown, in an apartment in a high-rise. The drug business was simple. From his apartment, Boss Jonni handed a runner blocks of white. The runner carried the blocks to Wolf in...

About the Author-

  • Born and educated in England, James A. Levine is a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic who has worked with impoverished children in the United States and internationally for more than thirty years. He has won more than fifty major awards in science, consulted to numerous governments, and lectures to humanitarian groups around the world. He is the author of the novel The Blue Notebook.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 14, 2013
    Bingo Mwolo, the charismatic narrator of the second novel from Levine (The Blue Notebook), will proudly tell you he’s the best drug runner in all Kibera. His youthful appearance—Bingo is 15 but looks 10—helps him travel below the radar of the corrupt local police force, as he cons his way through Nairobi’s potholed streets, trafficking “white” to residents and tourists alike. But when Bingo is the sole witness to the killing of Boss Jonni, the area’s biggest cocaine supplier, Bingo’s already-dangerous life becomes even more harrowing. Caught in the center of a drug world power grab, Bingo must also contend with Father Matthew, head of the local orphanage, who’s selling more than the word of God, and Chief Gihilihili, the peg-legged police chief with a horror film’s sense of justice. And then there’s Thomas Hunsa, drug client and local painter. Hunsa just might be Bingo’s ticket to riches—if only the young con man can convince everyone he’s not just the best runner, but also the best art dealer in Nairobi. Levine sets much of his latest in Kibera’s back allies and slums, but he doesn’t dwell there. By telling the novel from the perspective of this charming teen grifter, Levine makes his story feel substantial while also quite fun, significant even as the pages turn themselves.

  • Kirkus

    October 15, 2013
    A phenomenal street kid from the slums of Nairobi is the narrator of this second novel, a fable with realistic underpinnings. Levine is a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. His 2009 novelistic debut, The Blue Notebook, featured the street children of Mumbai; this novel confirms his identification with the Third World urban poor. Take Bingo Mwolo. He's a 15-year-old orphan in the Kibera slum. Known as "Meejit" (midget) because he's only 4 feet tall, though big where it counts, he's one of an army of drug runners for his boss, Wolf. "I am the greatest," he brags, and not just because he's fleet of foot; he has a good head for numbers, the legacy of his gambling father, and a keen instinct for self-preservation in a world where one wrong move means death. In between runs, he picks the pockets of tourists in the market. By chance, he's a witness when Wolf kills the drug kingpin Boss Jonni. Bingo goes underground, staying in an orphanage run by Father Matthew, a white pederast who controls the drug business behind the scenes. Levine has found just the right voice for Bingo, an upbeat survivor mired in corruption yet still capable of redemption. Pacing problems arise when a white American, Mrs. Steele, pays $30,000 to adopt Bingo. The action sputters and stalls. One of Bingo's drug customers is the painter Thomas Hunsa. Mrs. Steele, a gallery owner, recognizes the market value of his outsider art. There is much ado over a contract. Levine also introduces African legends, notably that of Anansi, the trickster god who masquerades as a spider. Bingo, now installed in a luxury hotel and mulling a romance with the beautiful young night cleaner Charity, is conflicted. Who exactly is the trickster? The denouement is messy. Though the overarching legends don't quite harmonize with the struggling mortals below, one thing's for sure: Bingo will win hearts.

    COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    January 1, 2014

    As Bingo asserts many times throughout Levine's second novel (after The Blue Notebook), "I am the greatest runner in Kibera, Nairobi, and probably the world." Kibera, among the world's largest slums, is Bingo's home in Nairobi, Kenya. It is also the epicenter for the drug trade in which Bingo has gained his notoriety as a runner. His occupation is dangerous enough among the slum's tough streets, but after witnessing the murder of a drug dealer, Bingo must really go on the run to survive. He proceeds to use his ambition, street smarts, and charm to hustle everyone, including Mrs. Steele, an American art dealer intent on adopting an African child. VERDICT Bingo is a fascinating and inimitably likable character. Levine, a Mayo clinic professor of medicine and well-known child advocate, excels at telling his adventurous, comic, and realistically gritty story with humor but not with pathos, successfully addressing the harsh and sometimes tragic story of a child at risk. [See Prepub Alert, 7/8/13.]--Faye Chadwell, Oregon State Univ., Corvallis

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    November 15, 2013
    Bingo Mwolo calls himself the greatest runner in Kibera, Nairobi, and probably the world. Don't look for him in a marathon, however. The young Kenyan is a different kind of runner, a drug runner. In five years, he boasts, he has never been arrested, partly because he hews to his personal 12 commandments (e.g., Do not steal from someone poorer than you) and partly because he is a growth retard. Only four feet tall, he looks more like an innocent 10-year-old than the street-smart 15-year-old he is. Bingo is a survivoruntil he witnesses a murder, and his drug-dealing boss, Wolf, sends him to the St. Michael Orphanage to keep him safe. There, Bingo is discovered by an American woman, Mrs. Steele, who adopts him. But is the woman, an art dealer, only using Bingo to find an elusive artist called the Master? And how do a corrupt police chief and an even more corrupt priest figure in this? Levine's quixotic novel is a delightful entertainment. And Bingo is a captivating protagonist who tells his story in his own idiosyncratic voice. By its end readers will want to adopt him themselves.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2013, American Library Association.)

  • The Boston Globe "Bingo's voice guides us; by turns he is aggressive, confident, smart, cynical, but also naive. Bingo tosses his observations at us with great urgency, almost percussively, in a staccato manner that recalls gunshots. And though he's blunt, he's also a sensitive observer. . . . Levine is creating a sense of an entire world, raffish and fast. . . . The larger story Levine is telling . . . is the story of a person's mind, and of the good, bad, and indifferent forces that make him what he is--and that story is told with compassion and intelligence."
  • Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver "James A. Levine is a deeply gifted writer who reaches into the dirt, sweat, and diesel of modern-day Nairobi and introduces us to a young innocent whose adventures are unforgettable. Bingo's runs between joy and death, laughter and sorrow, survival and redemption, will make you feel like cheering."--James McBride, author of The Good Lord Bird and The Color of Water "Bingo's Run is one of those rare books that infuse a potentially difficult subject with intimacy, tenderness, and humor. Social commentary, gritty comedy, and pure cinematic adrenaline meet in an utterly compelling novel with a voice all its own."--Tash Aw, author of Five Star Billionaire "Bingo's Run manages to read like timely news and high adventure at the same time. Levine's main character, Bingo, is an underage drug runner, hardened orphan, and hustler extraordinaire. He's also funny and wise well beyond his years. The rousing story of Bingo's evolution is matched only by Levine's portrait of modern-day Nairobi, both child and city depicted with real flair and affection."
  • Library Journal "Bingo is a fascinating and inimitably likable character. Levine, a Mayo clinic professor of medicine and well-known child advocate, excels at telling his adventurous, comic, and realistically gritty story with humor but not with pathos, successfully addressing the harsh and sometimes tragic story of a child at risk."
  • Publishers Weekly "A phenomenal street kid from the slums of Nairobi is the narrator of this second novel, a fable with realistic underpinnings. . . . Levine has found just the right voice for Bingo, an upbeat survivor mired in corruption yet still capable of redemption. . . . One thing's for sure: Bingo will win hearts."--Kirkus Reviews "Levine sets much of his latest in Kibera's back allies and slums, but he doesn't dwell there. By telling the novel from the perspective of this charming teen grifter, Levine makes his story feel substantial while also quite fun, significant even as the pages turn themselves."
  • Booklist "A delightful entertainment. And Bingo is a captivating protagonist. . . . By its end readers will want to adopt him themselves."

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