THE NATURE OF BLOOD by Caryl Phillips


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 The West Indianborn author of Crossing the River (1994), among other fiction, here offers an earnest novel composed of parallel narratives, each exploring the consequences of racial or ethnic prejudice and hatred. In the central story, Phillips traces the life of Eva Stern, a German Jew who survives both the loss of her family and her own sufferings in a concentration camp during WW II, only to learn that ``liberation'' can't free her from the pain of memories or the guilt of having lived when so many died. Closely related subplots examine the emotions of a British soldier who pleads unsuccessfully for Eva's hand in marriage, and the loneliness endured by her uncle Stephan, who abandons his wife and child to participate in the building of the new state of Israel. Another major narrative block describes the persecution of 15th-century Jewish moneylenders accused of the ritual murder of a Christian child. This is a baldly discursive sequence, scarcely fictionalized at all, and weighted with redundancies. And, in a surprising change of pace--and skillful piece of writing--Phillips retells the story of Othello's passion for Desdemona and his fruitless attempts to blend into Venetian society, all in the Moor's own limpid, sensuous, lushly imagistic language. Various tricks with perspective and voice scattered throughout these several stories fail to disguise the obvious fact that Eva Stern's is by far the most powerful--and that its power is vitiated by all those sudden unannounced shifts of subject and tone. Whatever the novel gains in thematic coherence from its odd structure, it loses in the reader's frequently distracted relationship to its most compelling character. An interesting concept, but Phillips's virtuosity calls all too much attention to itself. Not one of this talented author's better books.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-45470-5
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1997


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