Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lynette Latzko is talking with Daniel V. Meier, Jr., author of The Dung Beetles of Liberia: A Novel Based on True Events.
FQ: On the front of your book, it states that this is a novel based on true events. Whose life is it based upon, and why did you decide to write this story?
MEIER: A pilot friend and I worked together at the FAA and he was always telling these amazing tales of his life in Africa. He had dropped out of Cornell and was in search of adventure, so Liberia seemed the perfect place to test his skills as a small aircraft pilot. Little did he know! His stories were incredible. I kept telling him to write this stuff down. So, when I retied, I interviewed him for over 30 hours (and spent a lot of money for lunches) and amassed enough material to write a cohesive and thematic account of his adventures,
FQ: Has your friend been able to read a copy of your novel, and if so, what did he think of it?
MEIER: Absolutely he’s read it. He read the ARC. Fortunately. he’s my biggest fan. He loves it! However, I made a point of not letting him read anything before that point. As I told him, the book is not about HIM, but about a society headed toward ruin and his (true) adventures serve as a powerful way to illustrate the corruption and wealth of the time..
FQ: Were there any stories your friend told you that you enjoyed hearing, but had to leave out?
MEIER: Yes. Animal rights groups would probably have banned the book.
FQ: The book’s title, The Dung Beetles of Liberia, is quite eye-catching. What motivated you to choose this particular title?
MEIER: The Dung Beetles was always the working title as it served as an appropriate metaphor of Liberian society at the time. It seemed to fit at many different levels: the wealthy hoarding their treasures; the poor living in filth; the expats scurrying for profits—and the list goes on. But I have to admit, I don’t like the title and I never have. The scatological reference is quite off-putting to some (including me) but I haven’t been able to come up with a more appropriate title. It’s a little rough, I admit, but life in 1960’s Liberia was a rough place.
FQ: While reading this novel there were a few shocking moments concerning the happenings in Liberia and the treatment of its people that this reader was unaware of. Did you ever come across any such similar experiences while you were writing or researching this story?
MEIER: Yes, absolutely. The stories my friend told piqued my interest in Liberia—its history, its customs and what the future held after 1969 when he left. My research revealed not only the shocking events that I described in this book, but atrocities that cannot be fathomed both in the past and especially in the future.
FQ: As a former pilot yourself, have you ever flown into, or visited, Liberia?
MEIER: No. First of all, Liberia is not the same place today as it was in the 1960’s. Monrovia is a shell of its former self, with no infrastructure to speak of and very little law and order. It is a dangerous place. But also, I have to tip my hat at what my friend did back then. To me, it’s a miracle he alive today. Call it young and foolish, but truth be told, his courage and piloting skills played a huge role in his survival. I have no interest in visiting or flying in Liberia today and I am doubtful I would have ventured there in the 1960’s.
FQ: Throughout the story, the main character is often forced to pay all sorts of bribes (referred to as "dash") to the locals from the lowliest kid on the street, to the highest government officials, in order to get even the most basic of things done. This of course is a foreign concept to many Americans. Why do you think this took place in such a wide area, and does it still occur in modern-day Liberia?
MEIER: As I understand it, ‘dash’ is prevalent throughout Africa, even today. I personally ascribe it to the poverty on the lower rungs of society and greed at the top. The street boy who wants dash to watch your car has no other source of income. The small-time clerk needs dash because his paycheck is not a regular occurrence. The police do it because they CAN and as for the wealthy, that is just out and out corruption that has existed in this county for years and does still to this day.
FQ: Can you recommend any further readings into the history of Liberia so that readers may further their education on this fascinating country?
MEIER: The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper
Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf By Helene Cooper
Another America: The Story of Liberia and the Former Slaves Who Ruled It by James Ciment
FQ: What can readers expect from you in the future? Will there be any further adventures in the life of Ken Verrier?
MEIER: I’m so pleased you asked! I am now finishing up the first draft of a covering the Liberian revolution and the death of the last Americo-Liberian president, William Tolbert. This book may have less humor in it than The Dung Beetles as it depicts the particularly gruesome coup by Sergeant Doe who declared war on the ruling class of Americo-Liberians and introduced the use of military atrocities that set the tone for the next 25 years.