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Six years after the publication of his much-lauded novel Cloudsplitter, Banks returns with a portrayal of personal and political turmoil in West Africa and the U.S. The darling of the title is narrator Hannah Musgrave, a privileged child of the turbulent 1960s and '70s, who now, at 59, reflects on her life. After participating in freewheeling sexual experimentation and radical politics, Hannah is wanted by the FBI for her involvement in the Weather Underground. Under an assumed name, she flees the U.S. for Africa, traveling first to Ghana, then Liberia, where in 1976 she meets and marries Woodrow Sundiata, a government official. Taking on another identity—that of foreign wife, and eventually mother to three sons—Hannah finds herself increasingly involved with the highest members of Liberia's government as Woodrow's political star rises. She also finds purpose in establishing a sanctuary for endangered chimpanzees. When Liberia explodes into civil war, Hannah's life and the lives of her family are in danger. Readers will be stunned by the gut-wrenching (and often foolish) decisions she makes—and by the horrifying outcome of her association with key figures such as Liberian president Samuel Doe and insurgent Charles Taylor. An articulate and keenly observant narrator, Hannah explains Liberia's history and U.S. connections as smoothly as she reflects on tribal practices, the fate of chimpanzees and her own misguidedness. Better yet, for the purposes of good storytelling, she is conflicted and selfish, and often naïve despite her wide experience. She emerges as a fascinating figure, striking universal chords in her search for identity and home, though her life may ultimately be a study in futility. A rich and complex look at the searing connections between the personal and the political, this is one of Banks's most powerful novels yet.
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*Starred Review* American Hannah Musgrave, aka Dawn Carrington after her radical politics necessitated her going underground, ends up in Liberia in the 1980s, a struggling country once conceived as the promised land for freed African American slaves. She finds work in a shabby medical lab that houses a group of traumatized chimpanzees, and forms a deep bond with them that is more meaningful to her than relationships with humans. Even so, she is grateful enough for the protection of Liberia's minister of public health, Woodrow Sundiata, to marry him. She and he are essentially unknowable to each other--Hannah's visit to Woodrow's village is a brilliant rendition of culture shock--but their marriage is mutually beneficial, and Hannah quickly produces three sons. But not even chameleon-like Hannah and Woodrow can steer clear of the bloodshed that erupts when corrupt and vicious Samuel Doe comes to power and is, in turn, challenged by the equally ruthless Charles Taylor. Clearly smitten with his thorny narrator, Banks brings the full weight of his storytelling genius and psychological perceptiveness to a novel as compulsively readable as it is eviscerating in its dramatization of cultural divides, political mayhem, psychotic violence, and profound alienation. Banks' dramatic interpretation of Liberia's real-life tragedies brilliantly extends the vital inquiry into the consequences of slavery found in Cloudsplitter (1997), and his meditation on our close ties to other species poses urgent questions about how our greed and cruelty result in the endangerment of not only animals but also human kindness, empathy, and peace. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.