The Ravenala: A romantic novel

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9781935925200: The Ravenala: A romantic novel
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Kirkus Review: "Brooks' prose is lush and delectable...there are many...moments of stunning imagery...An intelligent ... blend of romance and family conflict." Bookreview.com: Rating, Excellent. "The Ravenala seems...like an old movie...that play[s] in your head like an old love song. As in poetry, it is not so much the story as the voice you won't forget. Bookreview.com highly recommends this story of survival." Among modern male writers, J.M. Coetzee, John Updike, and Philip Roth have written intense novels about aging in the life of a man. But since the days of Colette, there have been few novels that explore the richness of life as women age. Elizabeth Strout’s collection of short stories, Olive Kitteridge, is a notable exception. Yet, older women often live deeply exciting lives. Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychoanalyst, wrote that during our first forty years we journey outward to find our place in society and during the second forty we journey inward to contemplate our inner world where we can discover the genuine self. The novel, The Ravenala by Jackie Zollo Brooks is driven by characters who must leave behind some of those they love in order to go on this quest. The title is taken from the ravenala palm, the so-called “travelers’ tree” found only in Madagascar. A traveler cutting into the palm’s branches can receive a refreshing drink of cool water; one who is lost can follow the ravenala's alignment, always on an east/west axis. The story of the novel is of a New England woman and her sisters. Vivian James goes to Madagascar to find her destiny. Then, having found the unexpected freedom to be herself, Vivian discovers there is another more significant value. Living among the unsophisticated but very brave Malagasy, Vivian comes to consider that it is endurance we may learn to value more than freedom. Years later, Con Bennet, a British economist for the United Nations, becomes a regular visitor to Fort Dauphin, the coastal town where Vivian lives. Their easy friendship which Vivvie enjoys shortly turns to love. Con is as easy with this new turn in their relationship as Vivvie is uneasy. Con is years younger than she and he poses a threat to her cherished solitude. Can she sustain a love relationship at her age, given not only her independent spirit but her determination to live a contemplative life? Life changes for the two when Vivian receives news that her sister, Laurel, is dying of cancer in the United Sates. Reluctantly, Vivian plans to return home. Con insists on accompanying her. Suddenly she is fearful, knowing her family may threaten all she has achieved by way of independence in Madagascar, not to mention their judgment of her relationship with Con. Returning with Con to her family in the States, Vivvie faces the challenges of aging, sickness, and ultimately death. Beyond these inevitable life changes are the variety of human ways we deal with them. Appalled at her sisters’ fears, jealousies, and self-deceit, Vivvie is brought up short when Con shines the light on her own hidden frailties. But it is his relationship with Vivian which forms the heart of the novel. # # #

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About the Author:

Jackie Zollo Brooks was a Teaching Fellow in the Graduate Writing Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She taught in the English Departments of the University of Massachusetts and Wentworth Institute. From 1997-1999 she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Madagascar, serving as an English Teaching Supervisor. Today she lives and writes full-time, overlooking the harbor in Gloucester, MA .

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