A thoroughly confused tale whose inarticulate protagonist is the biggest, but by no means the only, source of frustration.

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EDDIE SIGNWRITER

Young lovers fall victim to the machinations of the middle-aged in this limp first novel from South African poet Schwartzman.

On a Monday morning in 1993, the hilly Ghanaian tourist resort of Aburi is in an uproar. One of the town’s most prominent citizens, upscale restaurant owner Nana Aforiwaa, has drowned in the river; her close friend John, headmaster of the local boarding school, is raving and in shock. Nana had been searching for her 16-year-old niece Celeste, gone missing with boyfriend Kwasi, a protégé of John. Nana, who raised Celeste, had with John’s approval encouraged the friendship between their young charges, turning a blind eye to the teenagers’ carrying-on in public. Was Nana a benevolent free spirit, or a lonely meddler with an unhealthy obsession? That’s one of many questions that goes unanswered here. Kwasi becomes the target for the townspeople’s indignation. He moves to Accra to live with his kindly uncle Festus, and puts his painting talents to good use as a signwriter. Celeste joins him. Their love is still intense, but shadowed by guilt over Nana’s death. Shy and awkward, Kwasi can only express himself through his painting. Eventually he bolts, joining the West African diaspora in Paris. Nana’s drowning was no accident, we learn; for the sake of Kwasi and Celeste, John had pushed her under. This does not ring true, and the revelation is handled clumsily. John comes clean to the town doctor, who passes the news on to Festus, who relays the confession to Kwasi in Paris at the very end. So Nana’s murder, which wrecked three lives, is sidelined for much of the narrative. The only flickers of excitement are provided by Schwartzman’s account of “the flesh machine,” the series of handlers who move Kwasi from Accra through Senegal to Paris.

A thoroughly confused tale whose inarticulate protagonist is the biggest, but by no means the only, source of frustration.

Pub Date: March 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-37873-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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