SHADOW OF A HERO by Peter Dickinson
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Letta is an ordinary English schoolgirl until 1989, when her life is transformed by the resurgence of ethnic identification after the fall of communism. Her family is from Varina, a fictitious Balkan nation split among Yugoslavia, Romania, and Bulgaria. Although her brothers have British wives and Mum devotes herself to IBM, Letta studies Varinian language and legends with her grandfather, Restaur Vax, descendant and namesake of the hero who liberated Varina from the Turks. Grandad, too, had a historic role: For two weeks in 1945, before the Russians imprisoned him for 30 years, he was Varina's last Prime Minister. Now he's to open a folk festival in Varina's former capital, with his family -- and thousands of other expatriate Varinians -- going along. The Romanian government is uneasy at this outburst of nationalism, and rightly so. A charismatic but unscrupulous ""blond thug,"" Otto Vasa, will manipulate the situation for his own ends. As he did in AK (1992), Dickinson explores political scenarios with sensitivity. Most intriguing are the Varinians' legends (in alternate chapters), which inform their sense of identity and parallel the contemporary action. Written with an elegant biblical cadence and furnished with wryly scholarly footnotes, these add both texture and depth. Since Letta is mostly seen safe in Britain, her perspective is less involving than Paul's in AK; and more of the ideas here are explicated in dialogue rather than action. Thought-provoking and expertly told.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
Page count: 296pp
Publisher: Delacorte