Russell Banks has exhibited an astonishingly imaginative range throughout his distinguished career as a novelist, and his uniquely realistic American voice, on display in such modern classics as Rule of the Bone and Continental Drift, continues to shine in this latest effort. Fans and newcomers alike will be rewarded by his incisive eye for character and his ability to deliver a relentless and engaging narrative -- always in the service of his inimitable style.
The Darling is Hannah Musgrave's story, told emotionally and convincingly years later by Hannah herself. A political radical and member of the Weather Underground, Hannah has fled America to West Africa, where she and her Liberian husband become friends and colleagues of Charles Taylor, the notorious warlord and now ex-president of Liberia. When Taylor leaves for the United States in an effort to escape embezzlement charges, he's immediately placed in prison. Hannah's encounter with Taylor in America ultimately triggers a series of events whose momentum catches Hannah's family in its grip and forces her to make a heartrending choice.
Set in Liberia and the United States from 1975 through 1991, The Darling is a political-historical thriller -- reminiscent of Greene and Conrad -- that explodes the genre, raising serious philosophical questions about terrorism, political violence, and the clash of races and cultures.
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Russell Banks brings to life in The Darling another political-historical narrative of great scope and range. As in Continental Drift and Rule of the Bone, racial issues are explored; as in Cloudsplitter, idealism runs off the rails. Banks always makes it work because he keeps it real.
The "darling" of the story is Dawn Carrington, ne้ Hannah Musgrave, a political radical and member of the Weather Underground forced to flee America to avoid arrest. At the time of the novel, she is 59, living on her working farm in upstate New York with four younger women, recalling her life in Liberia and her recent return to that country to look for her sons. "Mainly, we return to a place in order to learn why we left," she says. For Hannah, the decision was harrowing. She abandoned her sons during a bloody civil war, after the death of her husband, Woodrow Sundiata, a black African Cabinet Minister in President Samuel Doe's government, who is beheaded in front of her and her three boys. Banks explores mercilessly the corruption, greed, sloth, cynicism, and violence running through the Liberian leaders from Tolbert to Doe to Charles Taylor, weaving the real story of the horrors of West Africa with the fictional narrative of Hannah and Woodrow. He can take history off the page, bringing to life the times, people and events he recounts.
Hannah was born a child of privilege and chafed against it from her youth: "...it was an old impulse ... this desire to separate myself in the dance of life from the people who had brought me and become one instead with the people excluded from the dance..." Her father is a famous pediatrician, her mother a shadow figure maintaining a predictably correct suburban household. Both parents are liberal, but Hannah outstrips their political stance early on. They are estranged for many years because of her flight, but the separation is really much deeper than distance or politics.
She becomes a wife and mother, and is bored and unfulfilled by the role. She turns to creating a sanctuary for chimpanzees and finds her real purpose. "An old pattern. It's how since childhood I have made my daily life worth living, by turning tedium and despair into a cause." She names each chimp, calls them her "dreamers," and cares for them while others care for her children. Self-knowledge is not high on a list of her personal attributes. Although she characterizes herself as "a darling," there is little evidence to support her claim: distant father, cold mother, controlling husband. She finally sees herself in a true light: "Here it all was again: the names and dates, the tired facts of my biography up to then, the description of my few skills and talents. It was the CV of a small-time, would-be domestic terrorist. Sad. Pathetic." Hannah Musgrave is a visitor in her own life, never really connecting with anyone; more a dreamer than a darling.
Russell Banks has, once again in The Darling, shown himself to be one of the finest novelists writing today. He has written very convincingly, in a woman's voice, a story of youthful idealism destroyed by the real world, of a woman who connected more completely with chimps than with humans, and who says, "once it was clear to me that I would have to abandon my husband and children and return alone to the United States, once I saw that I would be alone, safe from prosecution--I realized, gradually at first and then in a rush, that it was exactly what I had wanted all along... I was once again seizing an opportunity to abandon one life for another." Another reinvention for Hannah. --Valerie RyanFrom the Inside Flap:
In The Darling, Russell Banks -- internationally acclaimed as America's most powerful novelist today -- has surpassed himself with an unforgettable and brilliant new novel about Africa, passion and the human condition.
Hannah Musgrave has had to flee her native America as she is wanted for her radical political activities associated with the Weather Underground. Arriving in West Africa in the mid-seventies she marries a government official and her life charts a new course as political unrest becomes the order of the day in her new home of Liberia. As narrator, the white, middle-class Hannah, navigates us through an African nation's struggle for identity as well as her own.
Hannah and her husband, are friends and colleagues of Charles Taylor, the notorious warlord. Taylor flees to the US on embezzlement charges, where he's tossed in a prison, from which, with Hannah's help, he manages to escape.
Returning to Africa, after getting arms and support in Libya, Taylor foments a bloody rebellion. Hannah, awaiting her chance to aid in the overthrow attempt, establishes a chimpanzee sanctuary. Then in the late 1980s Hannah and her family get caught up in the civil war, her husband is killed by government agents, and her now teenaged sons join the rebels to avenge their father. As an American who's offered safe haven by the US embassy and a flight home, she faces a heart rending choice: abandon her sons and her beloved chimps or stay and go down with them.
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