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African Dodger

At the end, thirty feet or so from the counter that closed the entrance, a grinning Negro face bobbed and grimaced through a hole in the back curtain painted to represent a jungle river. The Negro’s head came right out of the spread terrific jaws of a crocodile. “Hit the nigger in the head, get a good ten cent seegar,” the barker said. “Three balls for a dime, folks. Try your skill and accuracy. Hit the nigger baby on the head get a handsome cane and pennant” 
This was a common chant at numerous carnivals, fairs, and circuses across the United States throughout the late 19th century until the mid 1940s, as Americans took part in one of their favorite pastimes, “African Dodger.”

"IT SEEMED TO ME HE WAS ALWAYS SMILING, AND IT WAS A WHILE BEFORE I CAME TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE SMILE COVERED SOME DISAPPOINTED VISION OF HIMSELF." With those words, Cager Hart recalls his impressions, as a ten year old boy, of Jim Lax, a black man who had turned up at a carnival, in the summer of 1940, looking for work.
Jim hires on an as “African Dodger.” Each night, in a flare-lit arena, he must stick his head through a hole in a hanging tarpaulin and dodge baseballs. As summer passes, Jim and Cager develop a close bond. Jim is different from previous “Dodgers.” Soft spoken and educated, he clearly doesn’t belong in a carnival. Cager knows little about his friend, except that he once fought in the prize ring and saw combat in the First World War. The rest of his past remains a mystery, and the boy begins to suspect he might be running from something.
One night Jim is hit with a baseball in what will prove a fatal head injury. Now the novella shifts into Jim’s mind as he lies on a mattress of beech leaves in his darkened tent and begins to relive, in a series of flashbacks, the major events that have shaped his life.
THE AFRICAN DODGER is the story of a man, broken by war and left to question the value of his own existence in a morally shattered world. It is a psychological departure point in his life that will take him on a journey from postwar France into a remote region of Tibet, then back to the Harlem Renaissance of the “Roaring ‘Twenties” and a passionate love affair with the colored mistress of a white racketeer. Jim’s star-crossed relationship with Virgie, a girl from his past, lies at the heart of the story and the “mystery” of the “African Dodger.”

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