African American anthropologist Bertrand Milworth has ostensibly come to Senegal to do field research. But in truth, he has left his home in Denver to gain a fresh perspective on his marriage, which is troubled by an unusual sexual and racial conundrum. Struggling to fit in with his new Senegalese family—Alaine, his wife Kene, and their young daughter—Bertrand is, for the the first time in his life, haunted by surreal and increasingly violent dreams. His waking hours are no less sinister; unwittingly, it seems, Bertrand has become caught in the tension—sexual and otherwise—building between the married couple. His relations with the rest of the village community are also strained; he can't escape the sensation that he's being set up for a grand-scale betrayal. As his sense of isolation and alienation escalates, he comes to believe that not only his fragile sense of identity but his very life is at stake.
He Sleeps is "a love story," as Frederick Busch has noted, "in letters and an anthropologist's report. Its subjects are language, sexuality, and race . . . The revelations of this tough, taut novel are about the waking realities of how we live right here."