As an ultimately unnecessary glimpse into Ryder's history, it's a good thing this novella is free. The reader will learn this information when readingAs an ultimately unnecessary glimpse into Ryder's history, it's a good thing this novella is free. The reader will learn this information when reading the novel, but it entertaining to read it from Ryder's viewpoint. I'm not sure that I really learned anything from it, though....more
This is an extremely difficult book to review. I'll try to make this review as spoiler-free as possible. Most of the details I need to engage with areThis is an extremely difficult book to review. I'll try to make this review as spoiler-free as possible. Most of the details I need to engage with are at the level of setting rather than plot, so that should not be to much of a problem with plot spoilers.
It tries to find a position for itself among very troubling imperialist (and racist) fiction set in colonial Kenya without triggering so many of the elements that make those books unsettling for a modern audience. I'm not certain that it always succeeds.
I am not an expert on Kenyan (or African) fiction by any means. I have taken classes on African fiction, and the professor that taught those classes was a Fulbright scholar that taught in Kenya. With that history, I started reading this book aware of the complicated position in which it is situated.
Delilah Drummond, our heroine, is a scion of two wealthy families--Louisiana planters and British gentry. Her mother is scandalous, having been married and divorced several times. Edith Wharton's fiction was written at the same time in which this novel is set, and Wharton was strongly interested in studying the changing attitudes toward divorce among American and European aristocracy. Delilah's mother, using Wharton's fiction as a guide to history, would then be something of an outlier--freely marrying and divorcing several times before it was even potentially acceptable. Delilah is scandalous as well. She is nearing 30 (if my estimates are correct), and she's been married three times. The last marriage ended in death and scandal, and her family decides that the best thing to do is to send her to Africa until the scandal dies down. In order to convince her to leave France, they threaten her allowance.
Her poorer cousin, Dora (called Dodo) accompanies her as a chaperone--an ineffectual one at that. Once in Kenya, Delilah finds herself among people that she's known for years--other aristocrats that have been outcast by society. There's Kit, the painter with a insatiable sexual appetite. Rex and Helen are a married couple that understand the need to look to someone other than one's spouse at times. Others--Tusker, Jude, Anthony, and Ryder--are new to Delilah. There are missionaries and a few others as well. The society of wealthy white planters in Kenya is limited, so they all know each other well.
The cover copy for the novel is quite clear that is the story of one woman's journey to find something that matters in life--something worthy of personal sacrifice. Delilah does not enter that journey willingly. She is, often, a repulsive character. Like Hemingway's characters, she has been scarred by World War I, and she disguises those scars with alcohol and sex.
The problems with this novel start with the idea of a colonizer finding him/herself in a colony. That sort of story has long been a part of the imperialist project justifying the growth of empire. Isak Dineson's Out of Africa is one such book. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, in his essay "Her Cook, Her Dog: Karen Blixen's Africa," outlines the racist attitudes that laid at the heart of Dineson's characterization of Africans. He states that the Africa of European fiction is especially dangerous due to its embedded racism and the beauty of its presentation which allows the racism to be swallowed unnoticed.
Raybourn, on the other hand, tries to avoid the problem by presenting Delilah as a relatively enlightened woman willing to talk with and work beside Africans. She tries to learn native languages, including Swahili and Maas. The other characters (with the exception of Ryder) have slightly more historically accurate attitudes. Dodo, in particular, seems to embody the opinions of the establishment, as a chaperone should.
The problems in the book get more complicated by the fact that the white settlers are agitating for independence from Britain, just as Rhodesia was able to become independent a few years prior. The opinions of the local tribespeople never enter into the matter. The characters all state the part of the reason that Britain doesn't want to release Kenya is due to the number of Indian shopkeepers that have settled in the colony to do business; therefore, one of the very minor characters is an extremely stereotypical Indian shopkeeper.
Further, Ryder is the male lead for the book. He's a hunter, but he's not a "bad" hunter. He's not a hunter for profit, although he will lead safaris for the wealthy. Instead, he's more of a gameskeeper, worried about sustaining the viability of the African environment. When hunting, he only goes after man-killers and predators that attack livestock. He does not poach or hunt for ivory. He is, in a word, anachronistic. There may have been men like him in Kenya in 1923, but I don't think it's that likely. His respect for predators and the environment is based in modern knowledge about ecosystems, and I just can't see a hunter embracing some of the things he believes.
Raybourn walks a number of fine lines in this book, to use a very old cliche. She wants to embrace the romance of living in a wild colonial environment without embracing the social structures and racism at the heart of imperialism. She wants to present a narrative of personal fulfillment in Africa without glorifying empire. I'm not certain that she succeeds at anything she tries to do in this novel.
This is a well-written novel. Delilah is a complicated, rounded character. Ryder is less well-developed, but he's also not the heart of the book. Delilah is often unpleasant, but she's also fun with it. Her sarcasm is entertaining even as she cuts those nearest to her. The journey she makes--from debauched divorcee to something else--is powerful. As a novel, it functions well, and that's why I've given it four stars.
That said, I'm not sure that there is a place for a novel of this kind, one that embraces and ultimately romanticizes the colonial past so thoroughly. I desperately hope this is not a new frontier in romance, as "captive narratives" set in eighteenth and nineteenth century America were in the 1980s. Raybourn's project in this novel is ambitious, but I'm not willing to say it was successful.
I received a review copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway program. ...more
This book reminds me of the time travel novels I loved when I was a preteen. Except it's better written and has a stronger plot. The cover may advertiThis book reminds me of the time travel novels I loved when I was a preteen. Except it's better written and has a stronger plot. The cover may advertise this as a romance, but that's misleading. Unlike the time travel stories of my youth, the romance doesn't drive the plot. Instead, this is a book about steel and about power and how you use both.
As the novel opens, Jill places fourth in a fencing competition. This is a good placement, but it means that she will not be on the Olympic team. She's that good, and fourth place is devastating. When she can't pull herself out of the depression the loss brings, her family takes a vacation in the Caribbean, hoping that some sun and sand will be the cure she needs. It's not. Instead, Jill still manages to isolate herself from her family. When walking alone on the beach one day, she stumbles across the rusty tip of a rapier in the sand. She recognizes the object for what it is, and pockets it. Later, she and family go on a boat tour together. Just as the weather is getting rough, Jill has an accident and falls over the side of the small boat--and surfaces in the early seventeenth century, amid the wreckage of a ship destroyed by pirates. A different band of pirates finds her and takes her aboard, where she is given a choice: she can sign the articles and join the crew or go overboard again. Jill becomes a pirate.
The captain of the pirate ship, Marjory Cooper, recognizes the shard. The rest of the blade belongs to her mortal enemy, the pirate Edmund Blane. And since the shard wants to be reunited to the rest of the rapier, she determines to use it as a compass to track down Blane once and for all.
Through this, Jill is certain that the shard is her key to returning to the 21st century. However, she can't tell anyone just how far away her home is, and she gradually settles into the life aboard ship. Vaughn provides details that prove that she's heavily researched the time, but she weaves them into Jill's story effectively enough that they never seem like infodumps. Instead, we learn, as Jill does, why the ship must always be scrubbed--every day. We learn a little about the sails, and we also learn about battle. We learn these things because Jill lives them.
I don't think that everyone will like this book quite as much as I do. However, as I explained above, I have a strong residual fondness for this genre of story left over from my childhood reading. And I'm a Carrie Vaughn fangirl. I've read almost all of her works, and I've enjoyed them all. I encourage you to give this slim book a chance. It's worth it....more
I read this book in one of my African Lit classes during my undergrad years, and I've never forgotten it. It is the sad & beautiful story of PauliI read this book in one of my African Lit classes during my undergrad years, and I've never forgotten it. It is the sad & beautiful story of Paulina, whose volatile marriage and family life mirrors the political landscape of Kenya.
This is one of the few truly perfect books I've ever read....more