In an engrossing picaresque novel from King (Sea Level, 1992), a young woman’s adventures and loves unfold across a dozen years and three continents.
Born in Zanzibar, Marcella D’Souza is not really an African. Her father was a Catholic from Goa (the Portuguese colony on the west coast of India), and her mother was her father’s Arab mistress, killed not long after Marcella’s birth in an anti-Arab riot. Raised by her father and his wife (whom she believed to be her mother), Marcella can be best described as “a Goan Indian Portuguese Arab African of Catholic Moslem parentage,” a good résumé for someone who ends up in the Multicultural Studies Department of tiny Moore College in Vermont. Marcella’s story of how she landed in Vermont proceeds mostly backward. We learn that she received most of her education in England, through an Open University program that enrolled her while she was in prison. She’d gone to London via Reading, where she lived briefly with an Englishman who had been her lover in Zanzibar. In Zanzibar, she had been a small-business woman, operating two cabs, an ice-cream truck, and a bar. Reading was a bit too much of a change from Zanzibar, but London suited her just fine: She made friends within the city’s large immigrant community and took advantage of the privatization schemes of the Thatcher years to purchase former council flats with the help of her lover Benji, a somewhat shady investor. How did she end up in prison? Let’s just say that she was stretching the truth when she assured the dean of Moore College that it involved an antiracism demonstration. As one of her friends points out: the only religion shared by everyone in polyglot and multiethnic Zanzibar is conspiracy.
An engaging and subtle tale that unites far-flung worlds in the person of a complex, intriguing heroine.