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CANNIBAL by Terese Svoboda

CANNIBAL

By Terese Svoboda

Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 1995
ISBN: 0-8147-8012-1
Publisher: New York Univ.

 A moving, albeit flawed, debut: the odyssey of a young woman searching for her identity on the plains of Africa. Profound and lyrical, occasionally didactic and clumsy, Svoboda's reflective first-person narrative wades through deep currents of emotion. The unnamed protagonist and her elusive lover are working on a cultural project. She records African songs and attempts to transcribe the lyrics; he's supposed to film the people at work and at play. But she has yet to see him pick up his camera, and he trades her cassettes for money, beer, and food, sabotaging her end of the project. The narrator, obviously low on self-esteem, doesn't protest when her lover eats food without offering her any (even though both are rationed to a single meal per day), nor when he uses supplies from her pack without her permission to pay for medical care for a sick woman and her feverish son. It's more than insecurity, though; she fears this man. When she grabs hold of a bat that she mistook for a papaya, she cannot cry out, because ``if I scream he will think I am afraid and then test me later in other places with that fear.'' She hears locals talk about her lover being a part of the CIA and wonders if it's only a joke; she watches silently as he ``fixes'' her tape recorder and returns it as a mess of nonfunctioning pieces. While readers suffer with her as she bemoans this relationship, we also get irritated when she rambles on about it: ``I wriggle and forget. I wriggle and forget and like it.'' Not until he steals her birth control pills and she stops menstruating does the narrator confront her fears and strike out on her own. But what she finds is just as complicated and painful as what she leaves behind. Sharp-boned writing that echoes for hours, but sometimes its message is confused.