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