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The Darling

3.76  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,874 Ratings  ·  242 Reviews
Set in Liberia and the United States from 1975 through 1991, The Darling is the story of Hannah Musgrave, a political radical and member of the Weather Underground.

Hannah flees America for West Africa, where she and her Liberian husband become friends of the notorious warlord and ex-president, Charles Taylor. Hannah's encounter with Taylor ultimately triggers a series of e
Paperback, 400 pages
Published October 11th 2005 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2004)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,997)
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4.5 stars - a really fabulous book - set in the Liberian Civil War, Hannah, ex-weather..., underground. Banks, who is male, chooses to write about a woman in the first person -- and at first it's a bit weird - but in the end, he makes it work. If you're looking for something contemporary with bite and depth, a book about a life poised over the voids of history... you might like it. Nighly rec'd. Banks writes well -- realism -- yet a fine, fine writer.
Aug 30, 2007 Leslie rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: non girly-girl women
the woman's point of view is so well done in this book that it's hard to believe it was authored by a man. i simultaneously loved and loathed the main character. the fact that it's historically accurate, and that charles taylor, who is featured prominently in the novel, has been in the press recently, make it all the more interesting.
Nov 19, 2009 Stephanie rated it it was ok
War, massacre and menage a trois (thanks to LC for coining this phrase!). That pretty much sums up this disappointing book by the author of the great "The Sweet Hereafter". "The Darling" is long-winded, self indulgent, and at times, quite unrealistic. The protagonist is a white woman who fled to Liberia after creating and setting off a few bombs for the Weather Underground. We are constantly reminded of her mindset (and her bed mates) and she doesn't come off as an authentic female character, bu ...more
Friederike Knabe
Feb 18, 2013 Friederike Knabe rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa, us-lit
"There are certain things about me that I won't reveal to you until you understand...", Hannah Musgrave tells her readers. She is the central axis of this rich and engaging tale of one woman's journey from a privileged childhood to a quiet life on a farm in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. The interim period, however, is dramatic and unconventional. She drops out of her middle class life as a young student, frustrated with the comfort of that life and the people around her. Joining ...more
Lena Webb
Sep 07, 2007 Lena Webb rated it it was amazing
I have incredibly disturbing thoughts about primates, and this book didn't help me out one bit.
Seattle Al
Jan 31, 2016 Seattle Al rated it it was ok
The book is well-written and well-paced, and the descriptions of customs and the war in Liberia are fascinating. The descriptions of the narrator's farm life and experiences in the Weather Underground are also believable and intriguing. However, where the book falls down is in the plausibility and likability of the main character (the narrator). Her sexual encounters are not realistic, nor are her reactions to them. More importantly, Hannah is too unlikable to bring the reader to care about her. ...more
Jun 25, 2008 JoAnn/QuAppelle rated it really liked it
The main character was so despicable!

As I read this book, I wanted to grab Hannah/Dawn and smack her face. What a despicable character....and what a writing genius Banks is, at least in this book, to make me feel this way.

However, I like linear novels, so Banks' jumping back and forth in time is NOT my favorite device. This is not a spoiler: Wouldn't the book have been just as effective if the reader had not known at the beginning that Hannah escaped from Liberia and got back to the States? Wha
Stephen Wallant
Jun 26, 2012 Stephen Wallant rated it it was amazing
OK No. Anyone who says anything about this book is wrong. This book is about this girl in the weather underground, like your parents? And Forrest Gump. So she goes underground. But she's not like the girl in American Pastoral who becomes totally annoying and pisses everyone off. Not that she didn't piss a LOT of people off. So she goes into hiding, and fucks off to Africa. Aggra. Agra. Ghana! Word, I TOTALLY want to go to Agra, Ghana after reading this book.

OK so she's hiding out. And who is she
Dec 19, 2008 Dayna rated it really liked it
Recommended to Dayna by: my boss
This book doesn't take on life until 1/4 way in, when Hannah Musgrave has returned to Liberia (to which she first fled in order to escape her possible imprisonment as a member of the the Weather Underground) to confront certain "ghosts" from her past. Russell Banks, to his credit, keeps these ghosts rather vague - does she return to confront the spirits of the chimpanzees who had fallen under her care and who perished because of her choices? Or to find the sons she had abandoned, the sons who ha ...more
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
There aren't many Liberian authors - something like three, according to Wikipedia - and there aren't many books set there either. If you want a good idea of what the deal is with Liberia, where it is and what happened in its recent history, this is an excellent book for educating yourself.

Hannah Musgrove is a well-educated American with a famous doctor for a father and a fluttering, apparently silly woman for a mother. It's the 60s, and just before finishing her medical degree she drops out and
Oct 21, 2011 Rob rated it it was amazing
I'd forgotten how much I love Russell Banks. The Darling is complex, sprawling, melancholy, and terrifying, and it taught me more about Liberia than I thought I'd ever learn (and want to know). It's useless to try and summarize the plot except to say that it's about a woman who becomes a traitor to the U.S. in the 60's, moves to Africa, marries a member of Liberia's ruling party, and opens a sanctuary for chimps. Except it's so much more than that. Like his earlier novel Cloudsplitter (about rad ...more
Mar 20, 2012 Gwen rated it liked it
Until the very last page, I wondered why this wasn't called "The Dreamers." A book that melds 1960s radical activism (Civil Rights Movement, feminism, and Weather Underground) and political upheaval in Liberia, there was enough history to keep me reading. Hannah Musgrove was an exasperating protagonist: too self-reflective yet not quite introspective, unable to (openly) love people but willing to commit emotionally to animals, hard on others but somehow letting herself off. The CIA, American rad ...more
Dec 23, 2011 Stacia rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book, and it was a very good book, but I didn't really like it. As always, Banks's writing is gorgeous. Though the book is written in first person, Liberia was, for me, the central character, primarily because the narrator was so detached from the events she described that I was detached from her. It was quite odd, reading a first-person narrative and feeling so little connection to the narrator. The reading group guide led me to believe I should have gained all thes ...more
Sep 11, 2014 Krista rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook, 2014, africa
This might be a spoilerish review, better read after the book. As we meet Hannah Musgrave, she's an organic farmer in her fifties; a woman haunted by a past that she is finally willing to confront. In a first-person, confessional tone, Musgrave brings the reader along as she returns to Africa; revisiting the climax of her early life. Along the way, we learn that Musgrave was the privileged daughter of a semi-famous liberal activist father and a Junior League/charity works mother; a civil rights ...more
Jun 30, 2013 Snotchocheez rated it really liked it

And I thought Rule of the Bone was wack...

Somehow, Russell Banks ties his beloved Adirondack Mountains to subversive Left-wing anti-government activity of the late 60s-early 70s AND throws in a historical portrait of war-torn, bloody West Africa in the mid 70s-early 80s, whips up a frothy stew, and comes up with quite an engaging, page-turning little gem in The Darling. Much like Banks did with Cloudsplitter and John Brown's life, (but with considerably more attention-grabbing bravado), he takes
May 18, 2012 Chad rated it it was amazing
Who is the protagonist of Russell Banks’s 2004 novel The Darling? Is it Hannah Musgrave, the privileged daughter of a famous New England child-rearing expert? Perhaps Dawn Carrington, the political radical and member of the Weather Underground---a woman who forges passports, builds bombs, and is ultimately forced to flee America to avoid imprisonment? Maybe the novel’s protagonist/anti-heroine is Mrs. Woodrow Sundiata, the wife of Liberia’s Assistant Minister of Public Health? Hannah/Dawn/Mrs. S ...more
Mar 29, 2012 mark rated it it was amazing
The Darling is a masterpiece. It is the story of a woman, Hannah, who would today (2012) be seventy, who recounts her life and how she came to be who and what she is, and what she did, from the perspective of where she is just before September 11, 2001, at the age of fifty-nine: She is the unattached owner and operator of a small commercial farm in Keene Valley, New York. What is so remarkable is that the story is written by a man, Russell Banks, who is the same age and lives in the same place a ...more
Jul 11, 2008 Richard rated it did not like it
I saw Russell Banks read when Affliction first came out. He came across as a very thoughtful man who was a novelist of the human heart--the book is one of his best, though I was also quite fond of Continental Drift. Banks had a mind towards international waters (he said in the Q & A afterwards, when someone asked how much he knew about Haiti when writing Drift, that he only started learning about the place when he decided he wanted to write about it and did not decide to write about Haiti be ...more
Apr 01, 2009 Ryan rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa
I really, really enjoyed this book, found it very engrossing and well-written. In reading the other reviews I found that people really hated the main character, Hannah, but I found her to be very real. Yes, very cold and detached and definitely flawed, but I found her voice to be shockingly believable and relatable, especially since it's written by a man.

The book is about a woman who has had 3 lives - first as the privileged daughter who joins the Weather Underground, second as the American seek
May 31, 2010 Peggy rated it it was ok
i did not understand the narrator one iota. now, that is not always necessary for me to enjoy a book. but this person did not feel real, feel human. she was a person with a story that might have happened - but this narrator was an empty shell. this story could not possibly have happened to HER. maybe that was what the book was trying to say (she was incredibly detached?) - but if so - i never felt like that dynamic was explored. i also found her annoying. again, this doesn't doom a book for me. ...more
Mary Taitt
Nov 06, 2015 Mary Taitt rated it really liked it
An excellent but disturbing book about Hannah Musgrave who was underground with the Weathermen in the 60s and fled to Liberia when she married a Liberian and raised 3 children. When war breaks out, she is sent back to America where she helps free the imprisoned Charles Taylor. When she returns to Liberia, she and her three sons witness the brutal murder of her husband. The book is well-written and engaging but hard to stomach.

I reread this book November 2015 and really enjoyed it, in spite of th
Nov 19, 2010 Renee rated it it was amazing
I found The Darling to be a political-historical narrative of great scope and range. The "darling" of the story is Dawn Carrington, neé 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 (Amazon).
I listened to this book on audio and was c
Nov 27, 2008 Roland rated it it was amazing
Big fan of all of Russell Banks' work. This one gives great insight to the history of Western influence/exploitation of Africa and how it's ramifications are really coming to a head today. The protagonist is an unsentimental former SDS and WU radical who expatriates to Liberia and marries into the highest tiers of government. Charles Taylor is a significant character in the book which goes on to describe the revolution of which he took over. Particularly interesting in light of Liberia's recent ...more
Roger Brunyate
Apr 29, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it it was amazing
From Darkest Africa

"Mainly, we return to a place in order to learn why we left," writes Hannah Musgrave, the narrator-protagonist of this many-layered book. Now approaching sixty, she returns one more time to war-torn Liberia where she had lived for much of her adult life. The learning about why she left provides the narrative mainspring of the book. The Graham Greene-like story set in the midst of the Liberian civil war (including several real characters) is fascinating and often intensely atmo
Apr 01, 2008 Marguerite rated it did not like it
Recommended to Marguerite by: NYT?
What a weird experience this book was. What a weird experience this book was. It was on one of those best-of lists, and I brought it home dutifully and read about 100 pages ... only to realize I'd tried to read it before, but just couldn't get into it. The problem was, it wasn't memorable enough to register on my consciousness, either positively or negatively. This is my literary "Groundhog Day."
Rachel Bell
Jul 17, 2007 Rachel Bell rated it liked it
I love Mr. Banks. This book was an interesting read because of the historical events the story is wrapped around. However, I had a difficult time believing that the main character, a mother, could be that detached. It is some how believable when he writes about men but his foray into writing from a female voice I think falls short.
Dec 28, 2008 Callista rated it did not like it
Protagonist was completely unbelievable as a woman or mother. Doesn't seem as though the author's research on Monrovia was thorough. Please - especially if you are a friend of mine looking for information on Liberia - do not read this. Read The House On Sugar Beach, which is a much more accurate description.
Ayelet Waldman
I usually shy away from books about Africa. Something about them -- the light is too harsh. I know that sounds insane, but it's the best I can do to describe how I feel. But this book was mesmerizing. Shows the power of good writing to overcome any bias.
Sep 05, 2007 Gillian rated it liked it
An interesting story, very timely as we listen to news of Charles Taylor's trial in the Hague for war crimes while ruling Liberia. THe disapointment is that the protagonist is a very un-maternal female, created by a male and somewhathrd to relate to.
Nov 18, 2008 Andrea rated it did not like it
Shelves: africa
This author's most spectacular failure to date. The main character is whiny and strange, and the minor African characters with whom she interacts are inscrutably vicious stereotypes of the "uncivilized other."
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Russell Banks is a member of the International Parliament of Writers and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous international prizes and awards. He has written fiction, and more recently, non-fiction, with Dreaming up America. His main works include the novels Continental Drift, Rule of the Bone, Cloudsplit ...more
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“my blue eyes peering into their brown eyes and seeing there some essential part of myself, some irreducible aspect of my being, which in turn gave them back the same reflected version of themselves” 2 likes
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