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Before the Knife: Memories of an African Childhoodby Carolyn Slaughter
Synopses & Reviews
What happened to me affected all of us — my mother, my father, my sisters, and me: we all fell apart under the horror of it, and we all tried to pretend that there was no horror.
Before the Knife is an unforgettable story — a transcendent memoir — of the beauty and brutality in a young girl?s African childhood and of the ways she found to survive it.
When Carolyn Slaughter was nearly four, she and her family moved from England to a remote outpost in the Kalahari Desert. There she was surrounded by a landscape of incomparable splendor and violence. Majestic rivers formed overnight; flocks of flamingos and herds of game gathered with equal speed to partake of the sudden waters. Termite mounds grew to the height of trees. A crocodile could drag a child from the riverbank in a second. And the author herself became the victim of an unspeakable crime.
Slaughter takes us deep into her experience of Africa and of herself at a time of anguish, but also of recovery. As she has said, "I couldn?t take my eyes off Africa. And what I saw was so beautiful that it enabled me not merely to survive, but also to find a way to save my soul." Before the Knife is the deeply moving story of a girl who endured and transcended her family?s violence to emerge an impassioned observer and explicator of her world.
"In Before the Knife, Carolyn Slaughter has beautifully — and daringly — conjured up her African childhood. Hers is a story of the familial secrets that can build around one horrendous act and the terribly misunderstandings, regrets and recriminations that result. The memoir is also a lyrical recreation of the land, which — like those who dwell upon it — cannot be tamed, suppressed or possessed. The utter brutality of the landscape is matched only by that of the Slaughter family." Lisa See
"Two rivers of memory form the parallel universes of this beautiful memoir of childhood: growing up in Africa as the child of a minor colonial administrator during the unraveling of the British Empire; and growing up unmothered in a family of daughters governed by a savage father. It is eerily the world of Sylvia Plath?s disturbing poem 'Daddy,' brought to life with an astounding lack of self-pity and a writerly gift for endowing the personal story with gripping social realism." Diane Middlebrook
"Carolyn Slaughter's astonishing memoir is seductive and exquisitely rendered. She draws us into a world full of beauty and terror, the corrosive power of family secrets, and her stubborn and inspiring will to survive. An extraordinary achievement." Esmeralda Santiago
"At even the most poignant moments, [Slaughter] cannot resist the fatal allure of cliche...and at other times she cannot manage more than the banal....Undeniable horror, unremarkable writing." Kirkus Reviews
"Although the subject suggests comparison with Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, Slaughter's memoir is closer, thematically, to Conrad's Heart of Darkness....Slaughter has succeeded in penning a chilling and compelling exorcism." Publishers Weekly
The author of the novel "Dreams of the Kalahari" now pens a transcendent memoir of the beauty and brutality of her African childhood and of the ways she found to survive it and to save her soul.
About the Author
Carolyn Slaughter was born in New Delhi, India, and spent most of her childhood in the Kalahari Desert of what is now Botswana. Soon after leaving Africa in 1961, she wrote what would later become her highly acclaimed novel Dreams of the Kalahari. She followed this with eight more novels. After living for many years in London, she moved to the United States with her family in 1986.
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