A work of extraordinary richness, suffused with genuine mythic power: comparable to the recently discovered fiction of Moses...

A brilliant central metaphor ties together several gripping stories in this compact epic novel (winner of a recent Commonwealth Fiction prize) from the South African author of Ways of Dying (below).

The western coastal village of Qolorha is where Camugu, a 40ish former resident of Johannesburg, comes after several years of chosen “exile” in America, where he became a “communications specialist.” Communication is precisely what’s lacking in Qolorha past and present, as Camugu discovers when his insistent sex drive thrusts him into various romantic and political rivalries and intrigues. For the village—and, by extension, the “new Africa” itself (upon the point of the death of apartheid)—is defined by a conflict that reaches back nearly 150 years: to the story of the amaXhosa tribe, who were persuaded by a teenaged seer named Nonquawuse to slaughter their cattle as a sacrifice to their gods, after which the amaXhosas’ ancestors would arise from their graves and dispel the British invaders who had subjugated their people. This resonant story (also told in John Edgar Wideman’s The Cattle Killing [1996]) of folly and self-destruction hovers over the present-day village, where descendants of “Believers” (who followed the seer’s instructions) and “Unbelievers” (who resisted), led by rival patriarchs Zim and Bhonco, carryon a “war” that provokes them to disagree in every imaginable situation. Mda explores both the comic and the tragic consequences of this contention to marvelous effect, in a fascinating dual narrative that contrasts the story of believer (Zim’s son) Twin’s ill-fated love for Bhonco’s Western-educated, “progressive” daughter Xoliswa with Camugu’s various pursuits of an elusive amaXhosa woman (NomaRussia), “educating” his retrograde homeland, and rediscovering his own “redness” (i.e., his ethnic identity—compromised and lost during his years in America).

A work of extraordinary richness, suffused with genuine mythic power: comparable to the recently discovered fiction of Moses Izegawa and Emmanuel Dongala—and not unworthy of comparison with the masterpieces of Chinua Achebe.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-374-52834-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2002



The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992



The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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