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Gorgeous and dreamlike.

A British writer casts back nostalgically to the stories of her West African female ancestors to evoke lyrically the lost village traditions of her family.

Abie, a wife and mother of West African descent now professionally established in England, receives a letter from her cousin Alpha, offering her the family coffee plantation in the family village of Rofathane. Abie receives the news as a kind of fatal directive, since she always knew she would be going back to Rofathane. Once she returns and begins to listen to the testimonies of her aunts, she senses how they “lifted the past from their own shoulders” and handed it to Abie, who thus presents these stories in separate chapters, from the aunts’ girlhood in the 1930s, through their late life in the ’90s. First, there is the tale of Asana, the firstborn of the family headed by a respected chief advisor of the village and his first wife (indeed, Asana’s father would have several wives, leading to terrible complications and rivalries). Except that a brother is born after her, and takes her place, although he is sickly and eventually dies. Soon, the father becomes a prosperous coffee-grower, and Asana enters into an unhappy marriage, although she finds fulfillment later in life, a widowed businesswoman who chooses the status of “mambore,” or woman who lived as a man. Next, Mary, who has a sloping eye, remembers when the Muslim leader Haidera Kontorfili visited the village, to great fanfare. Then Hawa, whose mother is the father’s sixth wife, and whose narrative is full of village gossip. And finally, Serah, who recalls the coming of the so-called Cement Man in the 1950s and the beginnings of modernization in the village and civil war; later, she becomes a record of the first elections and fraught issues around voting. Forna (The Devil That Danced on the Water, 2003) creates, through the voices of these wizened creatures, a richly patterned mosaic of African culture and history.

Gorgeous and dreamlike.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-87113-944-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed.

This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel." It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define.  Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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