An ambitious, often lyrical, but narratively sclerotic first novel that attempts, within a folkloric structure, to tell the story of the African diaspora as experienced by one family over two centuries on three continents. While the ancestors gathered around the Queen Mother in the afterword comment and sometimes intervene, Ananse, the mythic spider and weaver of tales, traces the lives of a series of extraordinary black women. The complex, many-voiced narrative is an imaginative--but increasingly obtrusive--device that serves to slow an already sluggish novel. River is more a series of set-pieces--learning about life by quilting, unsatisfactory (but graphically detailed) love affairs, lengthy descriptions of struggle and exile--than the cohesive tale of generations of black women defying the degradation of slavery and racism that it was seemingly meant to be. The story begins near a river in West Africa, the ""river where blood is born,"" as Kwesi and Ama are separated and sold into slavery. Ama, called Proud Mary, has her tongue slit when she refuses to give up her baby girl to the white woman who takes the baby and rears it on her Caribbean plantation. Ama's child is later raped by her adopted father Gareth Winston; as the years pass, her descendants move out of the islands up to Chicago, London, and Montreal. Among the descendants are Bohemma, the wise quilter; Lola, a bar owner who tries and fails to live her life without becoming a mother; and Alma, her sexually frigid daughter, whose affair with Trevor, a married man, dominates her life until she goes to Africa. There, she finds the ""African identity"" she'd been searching for and, in giving birth to a baby near the river of the title, ends her family's long wandering. A potentially powerful story lost in verbiage and inaction.