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Perhaps it takes a writer with Ronan Bennett's peculiar personal history to write so compelling a novel about the place where politics and art intersect. By the time he was 23, Bennett, an Irish Catholic from Northern Ireland, had already spent five years in and out of various jails, charged with politically motivated crimes he'd never committed. He then traded in prison walls for the rarified halls of academia, studying for a Ph.D. in history before embarking on a new career as a fiction writer. Though at first The Catastrophist, set in the Congo during its bid for independence from Belgium, may seem a far cry from Belfast in the '70s, Bennett uses his hard-won wisdom to examine the role of the artist in a political conflict.
James Gillespie, a disillusioned Irish historian turned novelist, has arrived in the Congo on the eve of independence, hoping to reunite with his Italian lover, Ines. The two had once been passionately involved in Europe, but Ines's job as a journalist took her to the Congo, where her Communist leanings have kept her. Ines is an enthusiastic supporter of Patrice Lumumba, and her journalism reflects her bias. Gillespie, on the other hand, has a novelist's broader view, and his ability to see all facets of the issue simultaneously keeps him from choosing sides and drives a wedge between him and Ines. As she becomes more involved with Lumumba and his followers, he is befriended by an American CIA agent whom Ines suspects of being an enemy. When the political situation heats up, she puts herself increasingly in harm's way until, at last, Gillespie must put his own life on the line to save hers. Bennett does a stellar job of recreating the complicated web of political intrigue and shifting alliances at play in the Congo in 1959, but he really shines when exploring how personal relationships unravel under the strain of ideology. As Ines tells Gillespie shortly before she leaves him, his ability to see all points of view is a privilege few people can afford: "When you are on history's losing side, when you are poor and cursed to eat bread, to accept your enemy's point of view is to accept starvation and slavery." The Catastrophist is a love story, a historical novel, a troubling reflection on Africa's ongoing political upheaval. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
An Irish novelist finds himself trapped in an African colony's struggle for independence in this sophisticated and resonant political novel from the Whitbread Prize-shortlisted, Belfast-bred Bennett. In 1959, middle-aged writer James Gillespie travels to the Belgian Congo to join his young Italian girlfriend, In?s Sabiani, an idealistic journalist covering Patrice Lumumba's revolution for a Communist daily. In a colony swiftly on its way to nationhood, every action seems political. But narrator James clings to his ideal of artistic detachment, which drives a wedge between him and the engag? In?s. While James makes friends with U.S. attach? Mark Stipe, a stocky swaggerer who may be working for the CIA, In?s takes an African boyfriend, Auguste, Stipe's former houseboy and now Lumumba's right-hand man. Amid the tumult and intrigue of decolonization, James is forced to choose: will he cling to his ideology as a neutral observer, or help In?s and Auguste when they need him? Bennett's laconic style suits his cautious narrator precisely, recording his reluctant engagement with the Africans' cause. With deft strokes, Bennett shows how U.S. and Belgian interests, fearing Lumumba's Communist sympathies, quickly undermined his government, helping to power his rival Mobutu, who proved a bloodthirsty tyrant. This U.S. debut is Bennett's fourth book in Britain, where he's often (and rightly) compared to Graham Greene, praised both for his awareness of Third World politics and for his tactile sex scenes. Readers expecting a straight-up thriller may flip impatiently past flashbacks to Northern Ireland, meditative passages and references to Empson and Flaubert. But those seeking a well-made hybrid in Greene's modeAbuilt of irony and commitment, political theory and garish violence, erotic charge and historical factAwill find Bennett a writer who can shock, please, inspire, disturb and finally satisfy. (Sept.) FYI: Before he was 20, Bennett was arrested as an IRA activist (though he was not a member) and convicted of murder and armed robbery, but released when his conviction was overturned. Later, living in England, he was arrested on a charge of conspiracy and served time while awaiting trial, where he was acquitted. Upon his release, he studied history at King's College, where he received a Ph.D. He is now a journalist in London.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
I read this novel when it was released. It stayed with me like almost no other novel ever has, hence my decision to review it. Simply put, it was excellent. Read morePublished on March 6 2002 by Taylor Bennett
The Catastrophist is a very good read--highly recommended. It is a thinking person's page turner. Bennett has worked hard not to trivialize the suffering during a dark page in... Read morePublished on March 4 2002
This is a beautiful book. Set against the political events leading to the independence of Congo, we are told of the story of a woman's political involvement and her partner's... Read morePublished on June 15 2001 by E. G. Tolon
Bennett's American debut is fascinating for its historical context (that being what drew me to the novel in the first place), and also for the richness of its characters and... Read morePublished on Sept. 8 2000
Not everyone who reads this book will be stranded in a war-torn ex-colony, whilst trying to save a doomed relationship - but nevertheless !..... Read morePublished on July 16 2000 by email@example.com
This is a book about art-for-art's-sake vs. political commitment. The art-for-art's sake camp, as personified by the narrator, turns out to be pretty pathetic, but what's brilliant... Read morePublished on Nov. 8 1999
A writer travels to the Congo in 1960, following his lover, who has gone there as a journalist to cover the independence movement. Read morePublished on Oct. 9 1999