Books: A Grinning Buddha

FONG AND THE INDIANS by Paul Theroux. 199 pages. Houghfon Mifflin. $4.95.

The morning-line odds are 99-1 against a young American writing a novel about contemporary Africa that is neither artistically pretentious nor piously angry, but just funny. Paul Theroux, 26, a former Peace Corps volunteer now teaching English at Makerere University in Uganda, beats the odds. He has produced a satire out of very unlikely material: a Chinese grocer struggling for survival in a mythical East African country.

His bumbling hero, Sam Fong, is the perfect dupe. Trapped in an East African...