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The Ventriloquist's Tale

3.43  ·  Rating Details ·  325 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
Pauline Melville conjures up vivid pictures both of savanna and forest and of city life in South America where love is often trumped by disaster. Unforgettable characters illuminate theme and plot: Sonny, the strange, beautiful and isolate son of Beatrice and Danny, the brother and sister who have a passionate affair at the time of the solar eclipse in 1919; Father Napier, ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published June 19th 1999 by Bloomsbury USA (first published 1997)
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Dec 17, 2016 Paul rated it it was amazing
This won the Whitbread Award for first novel in 1997 and is set in Guyana. The narrative is in three parts; beginning in contemporary Guyana and then moving back for the major portion of the novel to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the final portion is back in modern day Guyana. The book follows one family over this period; there are elements of magic realism, not over-used. The novel is broad in scope and the themes are suitably sweeping, centring on the clash between Native Am ...more
Luís C.
Sep 07, 2014 Luís C. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The Ventriloquist's Tale tells the story of an indigenous Amerindian community in the hinterlands of colonial Guyana. Told by Macunaima, a ventriloquist narrator who adopts the form of realism "to be in fashion," the story weaves between the colonial past and the postcolonial present detailing the lives of the McKinnons, a family of mixed Amerindian and European descent, who live in the Rupununi savannah of Guyana. Narrated from the third person nar
Jan 27, 2008 Miriam rated it it was amazing
Unbelievably, it rings true! My favorite passage is on page 325 and is a (fictitious) quote from the Minister of Finance:

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I shoud like to inform you on behalf of the nation stat of Guyana, that we are going to resign from being a country. We can't make it work. We have tried. We have done our best. It is not possible. The problems are insoluble. From midnight tonight, we shall cease trading. The country is now disbanded. We will voluntarily liquidate ourselves. The nation w
I was overjoyed to see a book that so cleverly balanced the thinking of a native people with that of a modern philosophy. This book has found a way to show you the way the Indians think and how it is totally rational, just as the way the Whites think is totally rational and it doesn't do it by telling you that it is totally rational, it just shows the train of thought and moves on as if there is nothing remarkable. Of course someone playing the violin can turn into a grasshopper once it has been ...more
Oct 20, 2013 Marcia rated it really liked it
"She wondered if it was better for her own people to preserve themselves within their own traditions or to allow change."
This main theme runs throughout the book in many thought provoking ways.
The main culture clash is between the traditions and the new ways, but there seem to be daily culture clashes of all kinds among the characters.

Halfway home, on a hilllside, he passed an elderly Macusi woman sitting outside her house which was open on one side like a shed. She had her back to the sun
Suriname Bokmal
Aug 25, 2012 Suriname Bokmal rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
This book starts off with a very off putting prologue, which I needed to tackle twice. But after that it switches to an omniscient third person narrative and becomes really interesting.
It reminded me of the writing of G. G. Marquez, who is one of my favourite authors. The style is very similar, and the feeling you get while reading the story is similar. But while Marquez uses time and skipping back and forth in the story to create and additional feeling, Melville does not do that, she follows a
I’ve been putting off writing about this book because….well, where to begin? No, really, where should it begin?

Perhaps it should begin with what I liked the most about The Ventriloquist’s Tale. Its setting. Guyana.

I know not of other books that are set in Guyana, do you?. I’ve never been to Guyana, nor has that thought – or any Guyana-related thought – ever crossed my mind. So it was a really refreshing setting, a nice change from the modern, western, or made-up world which most books I read liv
part 1 was great, 2 was interesting and 3 was puzzling. I enjoyed the myths, got bitten by the insects, felt the trees, marvelled at the archery, heard the waterfalls. the process of sonny's arrival was interesting: how different cultures deal with incest was interesting, likewise the ways of evangelising people who think in alternate ways to western ideas. the idea if just doing because it's there to be done, or not saying sorry because "cockroach ate my conscience " is an interesting way to li ...more
Sep 06, 2014 Pat rated it liked it
Now this, is an unusual book to rate or to reccomend: a story of Amerindians in early 20th century Guyana(home, some 70 years later, to Jim Jone's Jonestown and its awful slaughter), featuring a passionate, compelling but tragically incestuous love affair between brother and sister,the story of the native family that produced them and a righteous Jesuit priest who wants to civilize all of them. It is told backwards, from the standpoint of a more modern love affair between descendants of the fami ...more
May 20, 2012 Kittyc92 rated it liked it
After reading a lot of YA recently, I decided to switch to something a little different, so I turned to Melville's "The Ventriloquist's Tale". The book is set in Guyana (I believe that Melville herself is Guyanese), switches from present to past to unravel a story about traditions and taboos in an American Indian family, the McKinnons.

It took me a while to get into "The Ventriloquist's Tale" as I found the first few chapters a little slow. However, things really started to kick off when I reach
Jun 12, 2016 maulfield rated it it was ok
Nagyon lassan értem a könyv végére. Egy olyan mű ez, ami egy család és a vonzáskörzetükbe tartozó egy-egy ember történetét kívánja elmesélni úgy, hogy Guyanáról is mondjon valamit. Értékelem, hogy a korok és karakterek közötti váltogatást nem éreztem nehézkesnek, a hangulatot pedig nem írja túl. Ugyanakkor ez a sok szereplő, olykor teljesen össze nem kapcsolódó történetek és azoknak látszólagos következménytelensége érdektelenné tett. Mivel senkinek az érzelmi világa nem volt eléggé kifejtve ahh ...more
There are authors who try to capture history from the point of view of the other, and when it works it can be arresting, funny and challenging for a reader in a dominant western culture. This one works, and is at turns sweet, very funny, and with enough ethnography to be interesting as well. I only give it 3 stars because it is not a very ambitious book. It succeeds as far as it goes and for a young author is quite good. I would recommend it, but just would not call it an important book.
Feb 18, 2014 Carole rated it liked it
This is a strange story that mostly takes place in the savannas and forests of the interior of Guyana. A mixture of myth and modern story it has nothing to do with a ventriloquist. There are some interesting insights and some well written descriptions of an unusual location. Otherwise the story elements are fractured and rarely come together so they appear more as devices to move a character from place to place rather than integral to the story.
Dec 05, 2011 Lena rated it it was ok
Apart from some interesting myths and some clues about the lifestyle of the North american indians nothing else was interesting enough to keep me focused.I was bored at some points and the way it was written made the book even duller.I would have given 1 star if it wasn't for the exotic places and myths....
Dec 02, 2013 Maggie rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
I'm sure it helped that I was recently in Guyana; references to places and animals and landscape meant something to me. I felt that the author had been to the same museum I'd been to. Perhaps the book loses a lot without that context, but I found the story and language compelling, the characters interesting. Really enjoyed it.
Alan Newman
Sep 22, 2014 Alan Newman rated it really liked it
Lush, sensual prose, exotic setting, wonderful characters and Amerindian creation mythology make for a memorable read. There is great poignancy and real tragedy in the destructiveness of the clash of cultures between the Guyanese "Amerindians" of the savannah and Christian and Oil Imperialists.
Hypnotic, sad, funny view of a world unknown to the rest of the world
Jan 31, 2008 Rachel rated it really liked it
It took a couple starts to get into it...I don't think this was due to the book but rather attempting to start it at a time when I couldn't concentrate on reading (while taking classes). But once I got through the first quarter, I read the remaining within a matter of days. Very interesting, unique read. A clash of cultures/religions...two illicit love affairs...folk lore...
Holly S.
Jan 27, 2011 Holly S. rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
A very unique voice. Rather compelling story. Incredibly well-described locale. I just couldn't bring myself to really be interested in what was happening; I suspect I finished reading it out of obligation and not wanting to waste my time. I understand why the author was critically lauded; it's just not to my personal taste.
I was supposed to read this one for one of my graduate school lit. classes. From what I remember, it was interesting. I simply ran out of time to finish it, and other required reading trumped this one. Perhaps I'll revisit it someday.
Maria Lucia Seidl De Moura
Feb 01, 2016 Maria Lucia Seidl De Moura rated it really liked it
Comprei esse livro da Flip há seis anos, mas tive dificuldade em começar a lê-lo. Tentei umas três vezes. Aos poucos, no entanto, fui envolvida pela narrativa, os cenários e os personagens. Nada sabia da Guiana, sua história e dos povos nativos que a habitam. Gostei muito.
Dec 29, 2008 Bethtub rated it really liked it
The writing was a free ticket to (at least someone's version of) Guyana... with lush descriptions and surprisingly well narrated sex.
Robert Monk
Feb 19, 2013 Robert Monk rated it really liked it
Interesting story set inside a narrator/narrative that interrogates colonialist legacy in Guayana.
Aug 28, 2007 Emily rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Great, twisted, totally unreliable narrator. Exotic locales. Sort of cheesy love story. And incest. What's not to love.
Feb 26, 2012 Zepp rated it it was amazing
mr biswas, heart of the matter, middle passage, mardi, delicate prey. yeah, in that company, wonderful so far
Oct 25, 2009 Neshia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me forever to get through this book but I did enjoy it very much.
Aug 20, 2012 Tamarine rated it it was amazing
Nobody has ever heard of this book, and it is awesome.
Kristy Kline
Nov 04, 2013 Kristy Kline rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book.
Beth Shields-Szostak
1st edition US
Megan Costello
I'll read this another time. This book is not good for me right now.
Lewis Stewart
Lewis Stewart rated it really liked it
May 27, 2017
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A Guyanese author of mixed European and Amerindian ancestry, Pauline Melville has emerged in the last few years as a leading Caribbean writer, and one of the most accomplished talents on the modern literary scene.

Shape-shifter, her first collection of stories, revealed the impressive extent of her abilities, and won the 1991 Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Overall Winner, Best First Book) and the Gu
More about Pauline Melville...

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