Memories' ghosts haunt this intriguing novel, the third from Schmahmann (Nibble & Kuhn, 2009, etc.).
Helga Divin is dying, and her two children have rallied to her side at her London home. Danny is a wealthy investment banker who lives near Boston. Bridget also lives in America with her daughter, Leora, and her husband, Tibor, a Bulgarian refuge. The Divins are natives of Durban, South Africa, although both youngsters were forced to flee penniless during apartheid. Soon after, widowed Helga, a liberal university professor, married Arnold Miro, a wealthy businessman, and moved to London. It does not help family dynamics that Miro is a boor, a greedy poseur who has isolated the normally strong-willed Helga. Miro also is attempting to misappropriate a collection of Zulu historical objects gathered by Silas Divin, Helga's first husband, Danny and Bridget's father. Among the artifacts are two elephant tusks given to one of the first settlers of the region, Nathaniel Isaacs, a Jew. As the Divins are Jewish, the tusks reign symbolically over the novel, as does Gordonwood, the hilltop estate Silas purchased. Also important to the narrative are Baptie, a servant at Gordonwood who feels a maternal connection to Danny and Bridget, and her son Eben, whose appearance is emblematic of the nation shaping itself out of apartheid's ashes. Told in four parts, with Danny's point of view in the first, the story moves to Eben and new Africa in the second; and Morton Nerpelow, the family's Durban attorney, in the third. Characters come together in the fourth. Danny's human frailties inspire empathy, as do Bridget's, but the imperturbable and constantly supportive Tibor is sketched admirably, and Miro as nemesis is unambiguous. Point of view sometimes slips, especially when Danny relates the tale. Chapters are very short, some less than a page, but one offers an interesting precis of the first contact between whites and the Zulu nation.
An entrancing literary effort drawn from authentic characters and settings.