Briefly Rated Book Reviews | The New Yorker
The minister mainly, by John Oliver Killens (Amistad). Unpublished for more than thirty years after the death of its author in 1987, this insane novel takes place in the imaginary African nation of Guanaya, where the discovery of mineral deposits has aroused international interest. Our hero, an African-American musician from Mississippi, came for another reason: “to get to the heart of being African and all at once and in a hurry.” But he bears a strange resemblance to the Guanayan Prime Minister and, following a series of bureaucratic incidents, he is recruited to return to America posing as the Prime Minister. The absurd situation gives Killens the perfect point of view to satirize international race relations.
I couldn’t love you more, by Esther Freud (Ecco). Over three generations, the Irish women in this novel experience the egocentricity of their men. The story of Aoife, the matriarch, emerges as she speaks to her unresponsive husband on his deathbed. We learn about her daughter Rosaleen’s love story with an artist in the sixties, and her detention, as a single mother, in one of the Irish laundries Magdalene. The daughter she was forced to give up for adoption, Kate, recounts her struggle to care for her cheating and alcoholic husband and their daughter. Each woman is as trapped as the father of her child is free; each seeks a mother-daughter connection; and each learns that “when her heart opens, it will break too.”
In the joyless forest, by JP Daughton (Norton). This ruthless story delves into French colonial archives detailing the murderous construction of the Congo-Ocean railway. From 1921 to 1934, at least twenty thousand Africans working on the project, which was championed as the key to local development, perished from hunger, disease or physical violence. Mostly forced laborers, they worked without a machine, clearing forests by hand and turning rocks into gravel with hammers. A man, identified simply as “No. 8846 ”, lost a third of his body weight in a few weeks. By highlighting individual histories, Daughton upsets the Eurocentric narrative of the documents he studies, in which “white triumph would always set aside African trauma.”
Pure flame, by Michelle Orange (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). For much of her life, the author of these memoirs found her mother, who gave up her maternal responsibilities to climb the corporate ladder, a thorny conundrum. But, when her mother became terminally ill, Orange began to try to understand the impact of this decision on her life. The book chronicles the couple’s conversations – Orange’s mother, though clear-headed about sexism in the workplace, refused to identify as a feminist – and places their personal story within a larger framework of feminist thinking about mothers and children. girls, drawing inspiration from the work of Simone de Beauvoir, Susan Sontag and Adrienne Rich. What Orange writes about the death of Beauvoir’s mother may also be true for her: “The loss freed her to see the bond as well as the separation, reciprocity and interdependence.