Bingo's Run A novel

James Levine, 1963-

Book - 2014

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New York : Spiegel & Grau [2014]
First edition
Physical Description
287 pages ; 22 cm
Main Author
James Levine, 1963- (-)
Review by Booklist Review

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 ­survivor until 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.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

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 Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.