A story of obsessive love, in a fourth novel from the American Book Award winner (Bruised Hibiscus, 2000).
Though the blood of tribal warriors runs in his veins, Oufoula, an ambassador from an unnamed African country, is eminently civilized. His father, who had two wives, would never understand why Oufoula is content with only one: the lovely and loyal Nerida. Actually, though, Oufoula pines only for Marguerite, a talented artist, wife of a politician, and mother of a young son. Given that they rarely meet as he and his family move around Europe, New York, and Africa over the next 25 years, the love amounts to little more than hopeless yearning and the occasional tryst. Tragedy strikes when Oufoula and Nerida lose a son and unborn daughter to a car accident. In spite of consoling herself that her children’s spirits are now with the ancestors, Nerida grows ever more noble, plump, and remote. A friend advises Oufoula to take a mistress and spare his wife, but the idea troubles him. After all, his young mother ran away when he was only a child and starved herself to death when her lover cut his throat; clearly, following one’s heart can have dire consequences. Many more pages are devoted to repetitive explorations of Oufoula’s feelings and frustrations, but little happens. Even the collapse of South Africa’s apartheid regime (Oufoula is sent in on a mission for the UN) has small significance compared to Oufoula’s lifelong passion for the eternally out-of-reach Marguerite—who, eventually, divorces her husband, allowing Oufoula to take his friend’s advice at last. He visits Marguerite at her small house on Long Island, where she points out, somewhat confusingly, that they can make love without rage, as her eggs are all used up. Oufoula swears to adore her forever, in wildly pretentious prose: “These were the breasts I had loved. . . . I had drunk from these chalices, I had received her sacrament of love.”