The Birth Control King of the Upper Volta


148 pages
ISBN 0-920802-48-6






Reviewed by Cathy Matyas

Cathy Matyas was a librarian in Toronto.


Leon Rooke is the current darling of Canadian literature. For this reason if for no other, librarians will want to make room for The Birth Control King of the Upper Volta on their shelves.

Each of the seven stories in this collection is as bizarre and as magical as the title suggests. What Rooke gives us in The Birth Control King of the Upper Volta is an odd assortment of characters, often simple-minded but always engaging. They’re lively individuals who do some very strange things. Take Adlar, for example, in the title story: his bigot-father sold birth control to the natives of Upper Volta. Or Judy and her husband Bingo in “Sing Me No Love Songs, I’ll Say You No Prayers”; they live in a one-room shack full of “squawling youngans”, but scheme for Crow Kay G.’s seven-room house. Or Agnes, in “A Nicer Story by the ‘B’ Road,” an ace football player who’s married to God.

What such novel characters afford Rooke is the opportunity to indulge his passion for voice. Significantly, a large portion of the writing in The Birth Control King of the Upper Volta is dialogue.

And so the stories move at a steady clip, at a brisk, energetic pace. But to expect Rooke’s characters to tell us something about ourselves and the way in which we live our lives is to be disappointed. If the insights are there, they’re too well hidden, or lost amid all the shenanigans. The Birth Control King of the Upper Volta is Rooke’s sixth short story collection. It’s an imaginative playground, but it keeps us waiting for the final coup-de-grace.


Rooke, Leon, “The Birth Control King of the Upper Volta,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024,