You might expect a political novel if you knew the situation, but before you do Bessie Head has the rug out -- Sello the...

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A QUESTION OF POWER

You might expect a political novel if you knew the situation, but before you do Bessie Head has the rug out -- Sello the monk is shimmering in the chair by the bed, and a three-year nightmare brush with ultimate Powers is underway. Politics has primed the heroine, Elizabeth, for a schizophrenic episode: she was raised as a South African ""coloured"" under the worst possible conditions (insane mother, grim orphanages); left stateless on the breakup of an idealistic marriage (her rebel turned out to be a sexual degenerate) and she has relocated to a native village where she can only see herself as a mutant because of her Western blood and education. Her survival powers, obviously since she's come this far, are immense, but they are mightily and oddly strained and give a strange thrust to the telling. Her phantasms -- Sello and later Dan, God and the Devil respectively -- are introduced literally along with the literal, relatively incidental persons; and their torments (mostly enforced voyeurism, but also pain and insomnia) dominate, but don't exclude her daily productive dealings in a Peace-Corps-type garden project. There is no narrative conflict, for all the emotional strain, and her feverishly lucid recital also manages to involve high points of Oriental and Western religious traditions along with her own line of cosmic conjecture, one point of which is that she may be King David's reincarnation. (And she's quite astute about white psychiatry, even while maintaining that occult persecution drove her mad.) Since everything points to autobiography, the clinical interest is enormous, but unless you are clinically minded or drifting out yourself this may prove hard to appreciate.

Pub Date: April 10, 1974

ISBN: 0435907204

Page Count: -

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1974