A posthumous collection from Thomas (Antonio Saw the Oryx First; Come to Africa and Save Your Marriage—both 1987)—stories and a novella that reflect her experiences in Africa as well as her cleareyed but deep affection for that continent, especially Ethiopia. For Thomas's characters, Africa is a harsh, beautiful place stripped of sentimentality and grandiose possibilities and offering nothing more than the opportunity to struggle—to accomplish the small, fleeting good without being overwhelmed by despair. In ``Jiru Road,'' the novella, a young woman joins the Peace Corps because she wanted ``to sneak out of the twentieth century'' and go to ``where I thought the big battles would be with the elements.'' Sent to Jiru in Ethiopia, a hopeless, doomed place where famine and drought are endemic, she decides to build a road, an admittedly pointless task since it goes nowhere; but while the villagers build, they will receive food aid and might at least survive a little longer—and that is something. Another story, ``Back Bay to the Bundu'' (previously published in the New Yorker), describes a well-born old Bostonian spinster who impulsively comes to Africa to ``go off and die in the wilderness''—but who, once there, realizes how empty her life has really been. Except for ``The Visit,'' in which an African-American widow, visiting her daughter in Nigeria, is appalled by the place but experiences something transcendental that she'll never forget, the remaining stories—though evocative- -are less fully realized. Thomas excelled at portraying women whose unflinching realism about themselves gives them a certain heroic courage. They are to be admired, as are Thomas's bleak but moving descriptions of an often tragic place. A writer who will be missed.
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