FOREIGN LAND by Jonathan Raban
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A first novel as generously imagined, witty and astonishing as its main character, the solitary George Grey, who's come home after 35 years in an obscure African outpost to face a vengeful feminist daughter, prying neighbors in a boutique-riddled seacoast village, and an England that's changed so much he feels a foreigner. George didn't want to leave Bom Porto. He'd grown fond of its seedy Third World atmosphere. His friends, who treated him as a cartoon Englishman, cuckolded him openly, and succeeded (once) in corrupting him with a Swiss account, nevertheless left him feeling alive and free. In contrast, retirement makes George reflect on his roots, and in particular on making peace with the daughter he's rarely seen. And Sheila has her own plans--which include putting him under her roof and letting him feel his reduced and ridiculous status. His deceased parents' own retirement cottage in Cornwall also awaits him: another trap, it turns out, in a village of retirees who include some of the funniest bores captured since Waugh. Finally, even the chance of a late-bloom romance with the former Julie Midnight, a '60s folk singer turned garden-variety witch, is not without its perils. What sets George apart from these people, who all want to use him for their own purposes, is that he risks human contact and, in his daughter's case, even tries to make amends. Memories contrasting his wrecked marriage to his friends in Bom Porto are what ultimately lead him to a liberating decision to return to Africa on the tiny old sailboat he's been coerced into buying, a journey the reader regards with both hope and fear as George sets out for ""home."" Raban's last book published here was Old Glory (1981), about his Huck Finn-like float down the Mississippi River. With Foreign Land he's created a modern, English, retired Huck Finn-at-heart, in a novel that's full of memorable writing about post-colonial Africa and England--places which seem to share an equal portion of modern misery--and characters (with the exception of George) whose main disability is that they care only about themselves.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking