The most fascinating thing about this book is that it is a true story. In 1837, two young African princes were sent to the Netherlands as a gift to King William II, as part of negotiations between the Ashanti king and the Dutch. Although slave trade was officially forbidden, both parties were still interested in the "recruitment" of African men in order to work for the Dutch in the Dutch Indies. The crown prince and his nephew were are to the Delft to receive education, and it was planned that they would return to Ashanti as black missionaries eventually. One of the princes, Kwasi Boachi, tries his best to adapt the Dutch culture, whereas the crown prince, Kwame Poku, is unable to do so. The two, who were inseparable when they first left their home country, grow apart. The story is told by the 74-year-old Kwasi, who is writing down his memoirs in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). He tells his story, and the reader accompanies him through his struggles, his wish to assimilate and his desire to belong to the majority - the whites - but although most people treat the princes kindly and they are welcome guests of the royal family, it becomes poignantly clear that they are considered an attraction rather than friends.
After completing his education, Kwame returns to Africa and wishes to live with his people again. But he has forgotten his native language, a fact which disappoint his uncle, the king, so much, that he denies Kwames return. Kwame desperately tries to remember his language, but this only leads to a state of delirium, and eventually he commits suicide. He was an outcast as a black guy in the white Dutch culture, and he was an outcast as a Dutch educated person among the Africans.
Kwasi, however, continues education in Weimar, Germany, and becomes a mining engineer. He is sent to the Dutch East Indies and hopes to become successful there. However, he is faced with racism as he had never really experienced it - by the hatred of a former class mate, but even more by a more internalized feeling of the Dutch authorities: that a black man is of a minor race, who should never have the authority that a white man has. Therefore, Kwasis success in business is inhibited systematically. Instead of being his own boss, he has to work as a secretary for his former class mate, who humiliates him (i.e. Kwasi has to take his meals with the servants), his letters to the government remain unanswered and when he finally receives the land he was promised to get to grow coffee, it is hardly usable. When he asks his workers why they wouldn't give their best for him as they do for his neighbor, they answer 'Well, that's easy; the neighbor is white'. And like that, Kwasi has to spent 50 years of his life in a country that is not his own, among people who don't accept him and among whom he is just an outcast.
The story in all is poignant and shows a deeply rooted racism in the Dutch colonial time. Arthur Japin did a very important job by writing this novel. Thanks to the book, the forgotten story of Kwasi and Kwame became a part of the collective Dutch memory. He even managed that the head of Badu Bonsu II, a Ghanaian prince was executed and decapitated by the Dutch and then shipped to the Netherlands, was returned to Ghana in 2009 - 172 years after the execution. Japin needed ten years of research for the book, but with great success. Kwasi finally is a part of the Netherlands now.