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Here, Smith (who's very nearly an annual occurrence: 18 novels in the last 21 years) writes a colorfully outlandish story, short on plot, long on melodrama, of an innocent young French girl lost in the wilds of Africa during the waning days of the First World War. In 1917, the beautiful Centaine de Thiry falls in love with a dashing South African aviator, Michael Courtney, who is attached to British forces fighting in France. After he's tragically shot down on the day of their wedding, Centaine discovers--via the kind of instinctive sense bestowed only upon romantic heroines--that she's pregnant with his son, and prevails upon Michael's father, General Scan Courtney, to send her back to the Courtney family in South Africa. Thus begin the perils of Centaine: her ship is torpedoed off the African coast and, after fighting off a giant shark, she finds herself cast up on the shore of a vast desert. She is rescued from certain starvation by two elderly Bushmen, some of the last of the aboriginal inhabitants of Africa who were then being hunted into extinction by blacks and whites alike. The most interesting characters in the book, the Bushman O'ma and his wife H'nai make the long central section something more than pulp fiction. They take Centaine under their wing, teach her how to survive, and eventually bring her, after a long and arduous trek, to The Place of All Life, a hidden Eden inside an uncharted mountain where Centaine gives birth to her son, Shasa. Unfortunately (for the reader, anyway), she wanders away from this paradise and the plot becomes hasty and contrived. Centaine is rescued by a handsome but cruel Boer named Lothar De La Rey, becomes pregnant by him, but refuses to have anything more to do with him when she learns that he had casually killed O'ma and H'nai, thinking them little more than animals. Lothar can have his son, says Centaine--of course it's a boy and his name shall be Manfred--only if he leads her back to The Place of All Life, where she's certain there are diamonds. There are, and as the novel ends Centaine is told she will soon become one of the richest women in the world. The clumsy ending makes it irritatingly obvious that Smith's mind is roaming far ahead to his sequel, but the vivid and dramatic adventures of Centaine, O'ma, and H'nai, alone together in the wilderness, are probably worth the price of admission.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Doubleday