A sequel to Mara and Dann (1999), this book employs a similar terse narrative style, appropriate to people who for centuries have been adrift in a world of primitive technology and thought and violent social structures.
This story of a wounded visionary leader, General Dann, his pragmatic second in command, Griot, his orphaned niece Tamar, and the loyal half-wild dog who guards and adores them, is set in a distant dystopian future, when “Yerrup” is covered with sheets of crumbling ice, and warring migratory peoples restlessly cross the parched continent of “Ifrik.” To anyone accustomed to the moral complexity of, for example, Lessing’s African Stories, this sober fantasy will seem to lack subtlety. In fact, all Lessing’s work shows an identical commitment to revealing how power arises and informs relationships, and how the racial and sexual become the social and political. When Lessing choses to dispense with subtlety, as she does here, the mechanisms of leadership and loyalty, and love and possession, stand out with a sometimes painfully didactic clarity. Dann’s adversary, a schemer named Kira, who is raising an army of malcontents, and by whom Dann has fathered a disagreeable child, is a quintessential Lessing villain: quarrelsome, greedy for attention, unprincipled in securing an advantage and careless of the well-being of anyone less powerful. She is thus emblematic of the narrowly self-serving behavior that has led to the collapse of technology and culture. Haunting the ruined repositiories of books left millennia ago, struggling to understand the scope of what has been lost, Dann has a sorrowful awareness that civilizations crumble “over and over again. Never mind about the Ice, we don't even need that. We can destroy everything without that. Again and again.” Although this is a startling insight for a backward age, it will not strike readers of our era as a revelation.
It is Lessing’s ability to summarize a complex behavior in a sentence rather than the haphazard plot that compels our interest here.