DAUGHTERS by Paule Marshall


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 Marshall's first novel since Praisesong for the Widow (1983) spans some 40 years and moves between contemporary New York and the (invented) Caribbean island of Triunion. Its central character, 34-year-old Ursa Mackenzie, lives alone in Manhattan; though she has spent the last 20 years stateside, her roots are in Triunion, and her actions are still shaped by her father's expectations. (Primus Mackenzie, known as the PM, is a towering political figure in Triunion.) As Ursa's best friend Viney points out, the island voices in her head ``keep up such a racket you can't hear you own self.'' Besides the PM, those voices belong to her black American mother, Estelle; Celestine, the Creole servant who's been a second mother for both the PM and Ursa; and to Astral Forde, the PM's ``keep-miss'' (mistress). We get to hear them all in the Triunion segments, which extend back to the PM's 1943 electioneering honeymoon with Estelle. Back in New York Ursa dreams of her long-delayed project (a thesis on Triunion's slave revolt against the British) and frets over her going-nowhere relationship with Lowell Carruthers, a horrendously boring middle- management type. She's starting a new job, studying black empowerment in a New Jersey city, when Estelle summons her to Triunion; Primus, like the black mayor in Jersey, is being co-opted by the white establishment. To save his soul, Ursa surreptitiously engineers the PM's electoral defeat--but is no closer to setting her own course in life. A nonending, then, for a disappointingly flabby novel that also lacks a storyline and fails to fuse its personal and political elements. Marshall's obvious affection for her hurting island warms the heart, but it's not enough.

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 1991
ISBN: 0-689-12139-3
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Atheneum
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1991


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