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The publisher tells us that this first novel was written by a well-known anthropologist under the pen name Louisa Dawkins. Perhaps the author's anthropological background explains her painstaking attention to the shaping of her characters by social context in this somewhat stilted Gothic-style first novel about the coming-of-age in revolutionary Africa of a Tanganyikan-born British woman. The methodical unfolding of Marietta Hamilton's life begins with her precocious pre-pubsecent years near Lake Victoria in the colonial rule during the mid-1950s. Marietta's headstrong mother, Virginia, is a widowed hotel manager who hops from man to man, leaving Marietta to her own devices. Responsible for her upbringing is Justin, a native black servant who steadfastly sticks with the Hamilton females (his daughter, Violet, becomes Marietta's best friend). As Marietta grows older, she uncomfortably straddles the line between the native African and white worlds, the latter including a fairy-tale stint at the mountain castle of an English baronet who briefly becomes Virginia's husband and Marietta's stepfather. When blond Marietta finally grows up, she reluctantly weds another African Englishman, the great white hunter Jonathan Sudbury, who supports his ancestral mansion and farm by leading wealthy American game hunters into the bush. Complicating the marriage, though (and Marietta's life), is Marietta's long flirtation and eventual affair with her husband's boyhood rival, black African scientist Michael Kagia, who, after his election to the Kenyan parliament, ousts his beloved and her husband from their posh homestead. Dawkins may well be an accomplished anthropologist in her other life, but she is less adept at writing dialogue with the rhythms of real human speech, or at infusing her characters with the more subtle and complex of psychological qualities. Her book remains readable primarily for its detailed rendering--if dramatically unsatisfactory--of white African lives torn by the move to independence.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1985
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin