Books by Betsy Wing

TRADING SECRETS by Paule Constant
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 15, 2001

The ambiguities of displacement and commitment are handled with real élan in this clever comic novel (its author's seventh), which won France's Prix Goncourt in 1998. It explores the interrelationships of four women who meet at a scholarly feminist conference held at a Kansas college. Pan-African intellectual Gloria Patter, the ebullient and rather self-important hostess, welcomes as her houseguests an alcoholic Norwegian film star (who's into primal-scream therapy), a Jewish refugee from North Africa (the site of Constant's superb earlier novel The Governor's Daughter, 1998), and a French novelist (the pivotal character) for a series of less formal cultural exchanges that deftly reveal each one's inner demons—while posing the perplexing question of where women belong in the world and how they realize their various potential. It sounds schematic, but Constant's suave analyses of all four women give this engaging tale both welcome specificity and mind-teasing resonance. Read full book review >
THE FOURTH CENTURY by Édouard Glissant
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 23, 2001

The modern history of Martinique is embedded in this colorful chronicle (published in French in 1997) of the interrelationships and rivalries of two families whose founders were brought to the island as slaves in 1788. In a tangled narrative spoken by storyteller-healer ("quimboiseur") Papa Longoué to young Mathieu Béluse, the older man (a wily Scheharazade) tells how his family, who escaped to the hills and lived as outcasts, and the Béluses, whose generations toiled and suffered on various plantations, intermingled, intermarried, fought (often to the death), and were eventually joined together. It's a heady brew, sometimes sensuously dramatic, as often rhetorically forced and borderline-obscure. Many brilliant moments, though—along with slave rebellions and hurricanes, omnipresent zombies and spirits, and a powerful impression of the human cost of racial oppression, miscegenation, and madness. In its best moments, this turbulent tale becomes something very like a Caribbean Absalom, Absalom!Read full book review >
SO VAST THE PRISON by Assia Djebar
Released: Nov. 1, 1999

So Vast The Prison ($24.95; Nov.; 320 pp.;1-58322-009-7): An affecting tale from a successful Algerian-born novelist, educator, and filmmaker in which an Arabic woman's escape—from both a brutal husband and the traditional domestic role assigned her by the culture—leads to her liberation. Despite Djebar's tendency toward flat rhetorical questions and importunate summary statements, she succeeds admirably in weaving together a portrayal of her courageous protagonist Isma's self-made career as a documentary filmmaker (she records peasant women's lives) with Isma's memories of her own girlhood and of stories inherited from her ancestors. A moving if schematic celebration of female empowerment and endurance. Read full book review >