Africa's Release

THE JOURNEY CONTINUES

Second installment of a trilogy narrating the fate of a fictional West African village and the foreigner who once lived among them.

Peace Corps volunteer Wentling (Africa’s Embrace, 2013) returns with a detailed novel that looks at what happened to a man named David and the West African village he lived in decades ago. This sequel opens with J.B., an eccentric man living in Kansas who takes daily long walks and performs rituals that peak around the full moon. The town, at first puzzled by J.B., grows to embrace him and his peculiar habits. It’s revealed that J.B. once lived in Africa and was, after he became deranged, extracted from the continent under mysterious circumstances. The village of Ataku, where J.B. lived, remembers when Bobo (as they called him) phenomenally disappeared inside a baobob tree, confirming their belief that Bobo was a special conduit to their ancestors. Meanwhile, Celestine, a village woman Bobo slept with, finds herself pregnant. She receives help from a healer who communes with plants and will train her to do the same. The village has decided to appease Bobo in the spirit world by repairing their roads and undertaking other developments, even when these developments attract more visitors than villagers are used to. Back in Kansas, J.B. disappears; while in Africa, Celestine begins talking to the baobob tree, hoping for Bobo’s return. The villagers struggle with poverty despite their developments, and drama arises as the corrupt government becomes involved. The village’s eventual leader, it turns out, may be Bobo’s own child. Celestine gives birth to a son, and the village chief decides that this son will take his place, prompting a complicated lie about the child’s origins. Bobo’s son becomes a natural leader but is determined to “meet” his real father, leading to a final transcendent experience with the baobob tree. The novel succeeds as a portrait of a fascinating village and its politics, even if this particular portrait is outdated. The villagers’ communal struggles and triumphs, especially when facing off against governmental officials, make for a compelling story. It’s somewhat surprising to find a white foreigner like Bobo so enthusiastically embraced as a spiritual talisman among the villagers; regardless, throughout the novel, the culture’s traditions are visible, such as the detailed ritual that makes Bobo’s son their new chief. There’s plenty of momentum as readers come to discover how various storylines intertwine, and by novel’s end, everything is so well-resolved that it’s difficult to guess what adventures the final installment holds.


Although there’s less ethnography and more drama than in the previous book, this well-drawn story will suit readers already interested in recent West African history.

Pub Date: May 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1935925446

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Peace Corps Writers

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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