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A didactic, overearnest allegory about the evils of colonialism and male chauvinism—in a story set in Germany and the former German colony of South West Africa, now Namibia.

As always, Brink is best at describing the landscape, in this case of the austerely beautiful but unforgiving great Namib Desert and the Bushmen, African tribes, and German settlers who live there. He’s less successful, though—thanks to no allowance for shading—in addressing the ideas and themes that implacably drive the story. Hanna X, a mutilated German woman raised in an orphanage, makes a decision that changes her life. Living in a desert refuge for women that’s also a brothel, she describes the events that led her to flee the refuge and embark, like her heroine Joan of Arc, on a brutal crusade. Moving back and forth between her years in Germany and the events in Africa, she relates how her childhood in Germany was a period of sexual abuse by the orphanage pastor as well as by many of her employers. Once in Africa, she fared even worse. Longing to see the world, she joined with women—in the early 1900s—who were sent by the German government to be the wives of the bachelor German settlers. On the train journey from the port to the colonial capital, however, Hanna is not only raped but terribly mutilated by one of the soldiers accompanying them: her tongue is removed, her ears and genitalia cut off. Later, when Hanna sees young Katya, an orphan at the refuge, being assaulted by a visiting German officer, she kills him, hides his body, and, with Katya, heads into the desert. As the two women journey to the capital to find the man who mutilated her, Hanna encourages those African tribes also bent on avenging the colonialists to join them. They defeat a German fort, though in another action, only Katya and Hanna will survive.

Intellectually and morally pretentious.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-15-100770-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2003


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