Reviews | Daniel V. Meier Jr.

Reviews for The Dung Beetles of Liberia

Highly engrossing… In this captivating novel based on true events, Meier intimately describes seven years of Ken Verrier’s life as a transport pilot in Liberia, the richest country in Africa, after the latter drops out of college and leaves America in his quest for identity and to fight his inner demons. Meier’s precise prose is vivid and yet straightforward as he details contrasting lives of the common Liberian population and the privileged Americo-Liberians. A fascinating evocation of 1960s Liberia, the novel explores the commonly accepted system of bribery and the arbitrary division between the masses. It will definitely appeal to fans of literary fiction as well as lovers of non-fiction. An engrossing read that is both informative and entertaining.

The Prairies Book Review

5 stars. “The Dung Beetles of Liberia by Daniel V Meier is the story of a young college undergraduate at Cornell who drops out of school to take a job flying planes in Liberia. He leaves behind his astonished family and his almost-fiancée in a bid to escape the demons that plague him over the death of his brother. He’s learned that Liberia is one of the richest countries in Africa and has high expectations of what he will find there. America had repatriated many slaves in the 1800s and established a democracy and infrastructure. What young Kenneth found was the true state of Africa with its own interpretation of life, morals, and ethics. It shocks him to the core. Life is cheap, the hierarchy is absolute, the poor are driven to the point of extinction and he finds himself rubbing shoulders with other hard-drinking, wild and unprincipled expatriates. Kenneth Verrier is a typical young American from a good family who is shocked to the core with what he encounters. Flying small planes delivering equipment to the mines – and a little diamond smuggling on the side – with no attention paid to overloading, air traffic rules, non-existent runways and center of gravity safety regulations. Little by little Kenneth learns to adapt but never loses his humanity. He is a likable hero, and tells his story simply, honestly and clearly.

Since it was written in the first person, I had to research to see if this was a personal memoir. No, but it is based on a true account of life there at the time, which I suspect has changed very little. This is possibly the most honest tale of Africa I have ever read. It may not sound as politically correct as other books set in similar places, but the author brilliantly highlights the cheapness of life, the lack of compassion, the willingness of the poor and downtrodden to accept their lot in life. Many readers may simply not believe the tales told with such pathos and humor but I can assure them that life is as wild and undisciplined as they are recounted. I loved this book, one of the best I have read in a long, long time and find it difficult to believe the author did not spend most of his life in Africa as he has grasped the problems, the customs, and the mindset so truthfully. Highly recommend reading – in fact this should be on the prescribed reading list of every high school as a window on a continent with a different way of life and a different mindset. Welcome to the world of Africa.”

Lucinda E. Clarke, for Readers’ Favorite

“Ken Verrier is young man who hasn’t decided what he wants to be when he grows up though he is over 21. It’s 1961, and after spending two years at the presdigious Cornell University where he was studying to be a physicist, he decided he wanted to go somewhere warm and be a pilot. He loved flying and is good at it, and with his father’s connections, he got a job flying in Liberia, leaving his family and girl friend Jenny back in the U.S.

Ken is smart and learns quickly, but he was not prepared to meet the numerous challenges of being in Liberia, Africa. The Liberian social structures were different from anything in the U.S. There is a crooked government modeled on the U.S.’, and there are 14 tribes i.e. the Mandingo who have influence and want their place at the table and their practices respected. On top of that, it is post World War II, and there are Nazi’s who fled Germany all over the place. Everyone is out for himself in Liberia–Ken hears this over and over again– and no on can be trusted. This is proven to him when his boss, and the boss after him steal his company blind before they sneek off in the middle of the night. Of course, the natives bear the brunt of poverty and medical support is almost non-existent. Smuggling diamonds is a lucrative but dangerous business. The price of getting caught is usually death.

Meier begins The Dung Beetles of Liberia by discussing the dung beetle. The description of this disgusting creature almost stopped me from reading the book. But I chanced it, and I’m glad I did. The book, a combination of historical and biographical fiction is an expose, done in the first person, that tells what life is like in Liberia. Each chapter describes a vignette of something Meier experienced or someone he met. The dialects are often off putting as the reader struggles to dicipher wha was being said . The reader will soon see that the dung beetle is a metaphor for Liberia–they’re always deep in feces. Still, I learned so very much from reading this. I salute Meier for being brave enough (or foolish enough) to have done this. Just being a white boy in a tumultous black country was exceptional. He made an impact on the people of Liberia. (i.e. Sarah) Meier’s writing is simplistic; his description could have been better, but he got his point across. I highly recommend this book, especially to someone who is interested in the dark continent.

– Mildred Burkett, Affaire de Coeur

I can’t say for certain that it was a damp, drizzly November of the soul or that I wished to be called Ishmael, but events had reached a turning point.

After his older brother’s tragic death, Ken Verrier drops out of his classes at Cornell University in the summer of 1961 to opt for life as a transport pilot in West Africa. The ever-present dung beetles become a metaphor for the various groups he flies from the capital, Monrovia, and into the bush. All of these groups seem to be seeking to “roll” something out of Liberia. The Americo-Liberians live as “big men” at the top of the national social ladder. The missionaries and Peace Corps volunteers seek to do good. Meanwhile, the diplomats, politicians, international corporations, hustlers, ex-Nazis, and Israeli Nazi-hunters are all scrambling to manifest their agendas and reap profit amidst a mosaic of tribal cultures.

As the young pilot’s dramatic new life plays out in this legendary decade of financial boom reminiscent of America’s expansion into the “Wild West,” it is notable that the civil rights movement and the anti-war protests over America’s involvement in Vietnam are unfolding back home. Nearby, apartheid still has an iron grip on South Africa, making the social strata of independent Liberia under autocratic President William Tubman increasingly fascinating.

The reader will easily forget that this biographical novel is not a memoir. Meier uses the first-person point of view and the highly-detailed, but occasionally episodic, turns of a life recalled to tell this fast-paced historical tale. With a gift for portraying dialect, character quirks, and the intricacies of combining salient details of his youthful adventures with fictional flights of fancy, Meier flies readers on this soaring, literary saga that will leave them clamoring for a sequel.”

– Kate Robinson, The U.S. Review of Books

5 stars. “The cover of this book was my first attraction to it. I was pleased to find, inside its pages, polished writing that kept me wanting to read.

The story has humor, well-written dialogue, tension, and attention to detail in its descriptions.

The Dung Beetles of Liberia is a book well worth reading, and I’m glad I had the chance to check it out.”

– Dr. J. Reads, for NetGalley

“I like reading books that are a bit different. The cover is what attracted me to the book initially – it looked very interesting.. The book is also based on a true story.

I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this book or not but I did. The author had a great way of telling it so I would keep on reading. Occasionally I got confused with the timeline and relationships but the story is good.

After Ken’s brother dies, Kenneth doesn’t know what he wants anymore. He has lost himself.
Ken was in college, had a beautiful girlfriend until one day he made the shocking announcement that he was leaving.
He did not split with his partner but told her he would be back. He got a job flying airplanes in Liberia, Flying planes is what Ken loves. But as soon as he clapped eyes on another woman I knew he wasn’t keen to go back to his old life.

Life in Liberia is very different – corruption, smugglers and much more. Find out what happens to Ken and how he adjusts to life in Liberia.”

– Louise Emerson, for NetGalley

5 stars. “What happens when one tires of the routine of normal everyday life? Ken Verrier has found himself in this quandary and desires a change. Ken is battling survivor’s guilt due to the untimely death of his brother. Ken feels his family blames him, despite his girlfriend’s reassurances. His father decides to aid Ken in his quest and makes some calls guiding Ken to a new opportunity in Liberia. Ken is employed by a small aviation outfit called Air Africa Services. His job is to fly passengers and cargo throughout Liberia and surrounding regions. Ken is surrounded by German expatriates, who drink heavily, sing the praises of the long dead Hitler, and fret the presence of Israeli spies. The job is fraught with peril, whether dangerous conditions or the possibility of the airline going bankrupt. Ken’s days are filled with white knuckle take offs and teeth gnashing landings. The country of Liberia is ruled with the iron fist of President Tubman, who shares fascist leanings with the minority population, while ruthlessly dealing with detractors. Ken performs his job with aplomb, but he also has to bribe countless officials to carry out his daily tasks while also doling out spare change to the poverty stricken populace he runs into.

Ken flies by day and drinks himself into oblivion by night. The pattern doesn’t waver until he meets Ana, a beautiful young woman who works in the German Embassy. Despite his stateside relationship, Ken is intrigued and smitten with Ana. Unfortunately, Ana’s time in the country is temporary, and Ken contemplates remaining in Liberia. Ken views the country as stable, but signs are indicating trouble on the horizon. As soon as Ken is bidding Ana goodbye, he encounters the bewitching wife of an Israeli official. He is approached with the job of spying on his new boss, while the wife seduces him. The danger is inherent in both activities. Ken’s life is threatened by the continuing battles of the Cold War as well as the environment. The question remains about whether Ken can survive a tropical paradise full of intrigue and betrayal with his sanity intact.

The Dung Beetles of Liberia is a fast paced real life thriller worthy of an action movie. The story weaves drama, dark comedy, and romance throughout a rich tapestry of narration. Daniel Meier captivates his reading audience with his telling of a wayward youth desiring a sense of purpose in a rapidly downward-spiraling world. This is a great read for all to behold.”

– Philip Zozzaro, San Francisco Book Review

How do you review or better yet, rate a book that’s based on true events? Especially if you were never a witness of these events?

I am overly critical of books that are set in Africa, because one I am African and two there have been so many tales written that do not depict Africa as a friendly continent. So, believe me when I say that I was skeptical at first and kept reading this book waiting to call out the author on anything I felt offended by.

I had to set the book aside after the first chapter and read it for what the author or any author intends his/her work to be- a story. So, I read it and enjoyed Ken’s insights, he starts off conflicted, the loss of his brother and his yearning for meaningful engagement sees him travel to Liberia. He’s naive and expects the very best of people but he learns that not everyone welcomes struggle or the desire to advance and acquire wealth like he does, and slowly his experiences unravel just how far people can go to get what they want.

– Dora Archie Okeyo for NetGalley

“As The Dung Beetles of Liberia opens, the reader is transported to 1961 where we meet nineteen-year-old Ken Verrier who finds himself at a major crossroads in his young life. He’s in his second year of school at Cornell University, and although he is doing fairly well in his studies, he is far from satisfied with his education and future as a physicist.

Ken yearns to get away, not only from the brutal winters in upstate New York, but to escape a world that has recently faltered due to the death of his brother. He informs his equally shocked parents and girlfriend of his decision, and thanks to a few connections his father has, he obtains a visa and employment as a pilot for an air transport operation in Liberia, West Africa.

A few days later, Ken lands in Liberia, begins his job, and is thrown into a new world that is drastically and often disturbingly dissimilar to what he was used to in America. While he expects this country to be a great match for his future endeavors, thinking he’ll do well because Liberia is reportedly a rich and prosperous country, he quickly comes face-to-face with the stark and brutal realities of life in West Africa. The few rich people have a strong grip and power over the poor masses, and everyone, regardless of economic status, appears to have no regard for ethics or morals as they scratch their way to the top or merely cling onto anything for survival. Ken is also exposed to a motley crew of people, including a few foreigners, particularly paranoid ex-Nazis, political dignitaries, international businessmen, local tribesmen, and even the Peace Corps, who all seem to have a similar agenda, to squeeze the most possible out of the land and the people, at any cost.

The Dung Beetles of Liberia follows the main character from a naive young man escaping the demons of his past, through his years of living and working in Liberia. His time in Liberia is filled with heart-pounding tales of often narrowly escaping sudden disaster and sometimes humorous bits of his escapades that takes readers on a wild adventure, making one feel as if they are right there in the seat next to Ken. But will Ken Verrier become a changed man, getting sucked into the endless corruption that is now a part of his life, or will he manage to escape the evils that surround him and maintain his integrity throughout his time in Liberia?

Readers should note that The Dung Beetles of Liberia may appear to be a memoir, but as it states on the cover, it is a “novel based on true events.” It is much more than a simple accounting of a life spent in West Africa, it is a story about a young white man’s coming-of-age, set in the backdrop of a real country experiencing a tumultuous time in their history. In fact, the author has created a unique blend of memoir and historical fiction that will capture your attention from the beginning, and fly you through the pages until the very end. While the writing is polished and flows well, some of the characters’ development could be a bit more fleshed out. In particular, this reader felt that Ken Verrier’s girlfriend needed something more substantial, and was left dangling at the end of her part in the story. However, with that said, this novel, because of its excellent writing, likable characters, and a riveting, page-turning story-line should not be missed by anyone.

Quill says: The Dung Beetles of Liberia is not only an engaging read, but an eye-opening education on life in 1960’s Liberia as experienced by a young American pilot.”

– Lynette Latzko, Feathered Quill

5 stars. “In 1961, Ken Verrier is a sophomore studying physics at Cornell when his brother, Arthur, dies unexpectedly in a car accident. Wracked with blame, Ken can’t seem to forgive himself for the fact that Arthur was on his way to pick him up from a party when it happened. Deciding he needs a change, Ken works out a plan to spend some time in West Africa and put his commercial pilot’s license to good use. His father helps him land on Liberia, which, at the time, was quickly developing into a booming hub for commerce—and with that, he’s off. Initially, Liberian life takes a lot of getting used to, but after settling in, Ken learns how to adapt to Africa’s numerous daily obstacles, whether it’s political bribery, dubious roommates, or insect-borne diseases. Throughout Ken’s seven years there, he flies countless air transports, leading to humorous and horrifying altercations alike, and lending an intimate look at Liberia’s rapidly changing economic and social climate that few others at the time were granted.

Daniel Meier Jr.’s The Dung Beetles of Liberia is packed with artful and observant touches that will firmly plant readers inside Liberia’s tumultuous environment. Endless elements of description lend warmth—and in some cases, terror—to a cast of charmingly idiosyncratic characters hailing from all over the world. At heart, the novel is a study in contrasts, asking us to examine what it means to be safe or in harm’s way, rich or poor, lost or found, and how, in time, those categorizations come to inform our entire worldview. This story is for anyone who has ever felt the relentless pull of wanderlust, and wondered what it would be like to lose themselves entirely in another land.”

Red City Review

“Firstly, I must say the title is excellent. There’s nothing better than a cleverly thought-out, enticing title that’s sort of ‘out of the box’. A wonderful title like this suggests to me the book is going to be pretty wonderful too. And I’m delighted to say, it is!

So, let’s begin with the plot. Basically, the story follows a young man who, in the 1960s, suddenly jets of to Africa to work as a pilot. What follows is a well-plotted mix of oddball characters and a lot of (very) short takeoffs and landings. Ken, the (sort of) hero of the story is in many ways not a hero at all. In fact, in many ways, he’s a bit of a selfish git. But he’s on a steep learning curve in this well-paced novel. There’s a long, long list of elements to this story, from political bribery to falling in love, from the Cold War to drinking and flying. And it’s all written with a gold-tipped pen.

As it happens, I’m a pilot myself with thousands of hours in my logbook. So I very much enjoyed the ‘flying’ elements to the story. And, from what I remember, the author’s got it right in terms of the technical aspects of flying and the way a pilot feels when he/she is trying to put the plane down on a short strip of runway. In all all, this is a fun, exciting, often unpredictable adventure. The writing is pacey with a good mix of ‘showing the setting’ and ‘keep things moving’. Personally, I felt the author was most comfortable with the flying parts, and not so much on any love interest Ken had or, indeed,the growing political problems of the country. But there’s plenty in here to keep any reader interested, particularly if they have an interest in African history and also happen to enjoy a thrilling, often gritty adventure. Enjoy!”

The Wishing Shelf

“The cover of this book is intriguing, and indeed, the plot and characters pull the reader in to the compelling and sometimes disturbing world of a developing African country. The book often reads like non-fiction, and like the best of non-fiction it has pace, a picaresque protagionist, and draws the reader into a world of danger and challenges. The well-crafted setting, a rather raw and surprising one, allows the characters to grow and establish themselves, and the relationships create a realistic frame of reference for connections among the characters. The more we read about them, the more we want to know what happens next, and the more we are drawn into the challenges of their lives. This book is boldly realistic but at the same time creates stark characters whose stories we don’t want to lose; I read this book on a very long airplane ride, and I was ever so grateful to have it to accompany me.”

– Jane Abbott (Educator)