SARAH'S PSALM by Florence Ladd


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 An elegantly written first novel by Ladd, director of the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe, offers a feminist journey toward self-discovery, drawing its strength from its unique insight into the Pan-African consciousness of the post-colonial era. Sarah Stewart, a child of the black bourgeoisie, has dreamed of Senegal ever since her uncle George brought back tales of African adventure in her youth. After Wellesley, and marriage to a suitable Dartmouth grad, Sarah begins her graduate studies at Harvard, where she pursues her interest in Francophone African writers, particularly Ibrahim Mangane, whom she visits in the summer of 1963. With her supposedly perfect marriage falling apart, Sarah becomes colleague and muse to Mangane, whose wife, Mariama, welcomes her into their childless family. Sarah admires more than Ibrahim's ``liberated cultural consciousness''; she believes that she has at last discovered her ``authentic self'' in Senegal. Back in Cambridge, Sarah divorces, finishes her degree, begins teaching at Boston University but is soon summoned back to Africa by Ibrahim. After Mariama's death in childbirth, Sarah marries Ibrahim and leads the fairy-tale life of an African princess: She collaborates with Ibrahim on his work, bears him another son, and watches as her husband's reputation grows, helped by her book about his work. Sarah's incipient feminism, however, makes her increasingly restive, and she begins to pursue her own work with the poor women of Africa. Ibrahim wins the Nobel Prize, but their happiness is short lived--his older son, now an Islamic fundamentalist who believes that his father's work is not in the best interests of the faith, dies with Ibrahim when a bomb he has planted explodes. Sarah finds solace in her other son, and in her creation of a Pan-African center for women's issues. Vivid, stylish, but too breathless in its uncritical political views: Ladd's debut is intermittently persuasive but seems at times uncomfortably like Afrocentric chic with a heavy dollop of conventional romance.

Pub Date: Aug. 2nd, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-80410-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1996