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Duggan (The Great Thirst, 1985) measures out spare, melodic prose to tell the painful tale of the BaNare people of the Kalahari desert and their searing slide into the 20th century. The Atas--an extended family of husbandless women and their exclusively female children--live as semi-outcasts in a compound next to the village of Naring. Boko Tladi, a fiery and visionary BaNare just back from WW II, follows Ata Three back to the Ata compound; her young daughter Ata Four feels hopeful that her mother will at last be happy with a man. When Boko Tladi is lured back to his childhood sweetheart Monosi, Ata Four promises herself that she will be the first of the Atas to marry. Years pass and she is seduced by an ambitious man known as the Jackal, who then disappears. Pregnant and intent on finding her husband-to-be, Ata Four leaves Naring on foot. She finds a job as a cook in Lorole Station, across the border from South Africa. When she gets news of the Jackal's whereabouts, she smuggles herself to Taung. He's happy enough to have her move in (after all, she cooks so well), and--with little ado and even less love--they get married. But Ata Four doesn't share the Jackal's materialistic fervor, and when the blacks are moved into a custom-constructed ghetto, she leads a pass-burning demonstration and returns to Lorole, where she opens a bar and finds husbands for a number of Atas. Back at Naring, traditional patterns are also breaking down. Villagers are cultivating the desert, tampering with the fragile environment, until an apocalyptic fire razes Naring. Ata Four and her son Kanye (the first Ata-borne boy) stand in as the unlikely emblems of the enduring power of the past. A lean, human-scale story that probes the connection between rural and urban Africans and illuminates the tension between the rigidities of the past and the temptations and torments of the future.

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 1987
Publisher: Delacorte