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Darlingby Russell Banks
Synopses & Reviews
“After many years of believing that I never dream of anything, I dreamed of Africa.”
Over a decade after leaving her three sons behind in Liberia, Hannah Musgrave realizes she has to leave her farm in the Adirondacks and find out what has happened to them and the chimpanzees for whom she created a sanctuary. The Darling is the story of her return to the wreckage of west Africa and the story of her past, from her middle-class American upbringing to her years in the Weather Underground. It is also one of the most powerful novels of the decade, an unforgettable tale of growth and loss, and an unstinting exploration of some of the most troubling issues of our time: terrorism, race, and the contact between the first world and the third.
Hannah Musgrave, the narrator of The Darling, tells us she first travelled to Africa in the mid-1970s, to escape prosecution for her radical political activities with the Weathermen. Arriving in Liberia to work in a medical research lab, Hannah – also known by her alias, Dawn Carrington – meets Woodrow Sundiata, an official in the ministry of public health, and they fall immediately in love. Courting with Woodrow, an intelligent, ambitious man, means encountering his other life in his ancestral village of Fuama – a life that could scarcely be more different from Hannah’s affluent childhood as the daughter of a bestselling pediatrician. Hannah and Woodrow start a family, but she feels herself to be somehow estranged from her life in Liberia and curiously detached from her husband and three sons. Still in search of herself as her children grow older, Hannah develops a closer and closer bond with the chimpanzees at the lab, whom she calls “dreamers.”
During the early 1980s, Liberian society grows more unstable, until an illiterate soldier named Samuel Doe brutally overthrows and assassinates the president. Hannah’s courageous intervention with Doe leads to Woodrow’s release from detention, but at a price: she must return to the US, leaving her family behind. Hannah feels that her dreamers will feel her absence more deeply than her family will.
In the US Hannah briefly reconnects with her parents after years of estrangement before returning to her friends from her underground years. One of them, Zack Procter, is involved with a plan to spring Charles Taylor – an attractive Liberian politician – from jail, and Hannah involves herself with the plot, genuinely believing that Taylor will bring social democracy to west Africa.
Hannah gets permission to return to her family in the mid-1980s, and decides that this time things will be different: she will take charge of her home life, ousting Woodrow’s young cousin Jeanette, and she will build a sanctuary for her chimpanzees. But Charles Taylor has also returned, and his slow and bloody rebellion against Doe leads, eventually, to a night of horrific violence in which Woodrow is murdered and Hannah’s teenaged children disappear. Amidst chaos and almost unbelievable bloodshed, Hannah has time only to move her dreamers to Boniface Island before facing the heartrending decision to escape Liberia, leaving her children behind. More than ten years will pass before she can return to discover their fate, and understand her own.
About the Author
“The way I feel about every book is this: you don’t finish it, you abandon it. All of my books have in some sense failed, otherwise I wouldn’t write another one. If I wrote the perfect book, I wouldn’t have to write again, and I wouldn’t want to. That’s not true for everyone, but it’s true for me. I could walk away then. But so far I haven’t managed to do it.” –Russell Banks
Russell Banks’ books include Searching for Survivors, Family Life, Hamilton Stark, The New World, Book of Jamaica, Trailerpark, The Relation of My Imprisonment, Continental Drift, Success Stories, Affliction, The Sweet Hereafter, Rule of the Bone, Cloudsplitter, and The Angel On The Roof, a collection of short stories. He has also contributed poems, stories and essays to Vanity Fair, The New York Times Book Review, Esquire, Harper’s, and many other publications.
Mr. Banks was raised in New Hampshire and eastern Massachusetts and is the eldest of four children. He grew up in a working-class environment – a major influence on his writing – and was the first member of his family to go to college. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he worked as a plumber, shoe salesman and window cleaner. More recently he has taught in the writing programs at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence College, the University of Alabama, New England College, New York University and Princeton University.
Acclaimed as “the most important living white American male on the official literary map” by The Village Voice, Banks has been praised for his empathy, his compassion for his characters, and his attempts to grapple with the moral ambiguities of contemporary life. He has also been repeatedly recognized for his ability to evoke the texture of ordinary American lives and the humanity he brings to what are often dark and brutal tales of poverty, violence, hard living and domestic abuse.
Mr. Banks has received several prizes and awards for his work, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, Ingram Merrill Award, The St. Lawrence Award for Short Fiction, O. Henry and Best American Short Story Award, The John Dos Passos Prize, and the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Continental Drift and Cloudsplitter were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 and 1998 respectively. Affliction was short listed for both the PEN/Faulkner Fiction Prize and the Irish International Prize.
His works have been widely translated and published in Europe and Asia. Two of his novels have been adapted for feature-length films, The Sweet Hereafter (directed by Atom Egoyan, winner of the Grand Prix and International Critics Prize at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival) and Affliction (directed by Paul Schrader, starring Nick Nolte, Willem Dafoe, Sissy Spacek, and James Coburn). He is the screenwriter of a film adaptation of Continental Drift.
Russell Banks lives in upstate New York. He is married to the poet Chase Twichell, and is the father of four grown daughters.
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