This novel takes us into the consciousness of Colonel Hakim Félix Elleloû, the Islamic and Marxist dictator of the imaginary state of Kush. Elleloû surveys the pernicious effects upon his country that result from industrial enterprise, naive philanthropy, and superpower arms rivalries. During his frequent absences from the capital, Elleloû subordinates seek to shift drought-ridden Kush from the Soviet sphere to that of the Americans. Oil is discovered in the state and he finds himself replaced. In the process of leaving his post, Elleloû agonizes over the identity Kush is sacrificing to modernization and exploitation. For Elleloû is above all a devout man; he recognizes the human dignity that is preserved through monotheism. To worship one God is to defy the animisms of both primitive magic and capitalistic acquisitiveness. Elleloû wants his people not to be dominated by things, that is, not to succumb to the multiple demons who have left the desert wadis to take up abode in the oil towns and their supermarkets. John Updike depicts the United States from the perspective of the damage it is doing to the rest of the world. So Elleloû takes his stand against this Americanization of the planet: he is a prophet who goes down to defeat crying out for the God who enables human beings to be at home in the universe while transcending it.