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 The US debut of a meganovel of the Old South by American expatriate Green, begun in 1934, put aside when Gone With the Wind appeared, completed in the 1980's and very successfully published- -more than 650,000 copies sold, we're told--in 1987 in Europe. The life and loves of beautiful Elizabeth Escridge, the 16- year-old English girl who comes to stay with her wealthy Hargrove cousins when her aristocratic father dies, are chronicled at a pace as languorous and enervating as a summer's day at Dinwood plantation, the Hargroves' Georgia home. Set in the years 1850-52, the possibility of war with the North is a pervasive subtext and handy dinner-party topic useful for alarming assembled guests and teaching Elizabeth more Southern history. Meanwhile, there are oblique hints of family secrets and plantation mysteries: a fatal fire in Haiti, where the Hargroves once lived; a forbidden wood of the damned; and a resident Welshwoman who terrifies them all. Elizabeth, at first homesick, soon adjusts and falls in love with notorious Jonathan Armstrong, whom she barely speaks to but just knows she loves, as he does her, though he nevertheless marries wealthy Creole and former prostitute Annabel. Then, when wealthy Uncle Charlie from Savannah takes her to Virginia, Elizabeth falls in love with and marries his son Ned. Naturally, it can't and doesn't end well: Ned and Jonathan kill each other in a duel; Elizabeth bears a son of debated paternity; and the War between the States draws closer. The Distant Lands is no Gone With the Wind, no matter how many mint juleps and magnolias fill its pages. Too melodramatic, too stiff, with a heroine sans any redeeming panache or intelligence: a readable but less-than-riveting tome whose transatlantic popularity says more about them than us.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-7145-2909-5
Page count: 902pp
Publisher: Marion Boyars
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1991


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