Synopses & Reviews
A president has been overthrown by a military coup in a nameless country in an unspecified era. The president's barber, chef, and portraitist are imprisoned, with many others, in a remote palace in the hills high above the city center. Before the coup, these three men worked with unquestioning loyalty, serving the president in seemingly benign jobs. Now, forced to serve the country's new leader, they begin to reconsider their role in the old regime.
In simple, elegant prose Blood Kin alternates between the voices of the barber, the chef, and the portraitist. Later in the book their wives, lovers, and daughters tell their own tales. As the old order falls, so does the veil that hides the truth about these men and women's secret passions. No one, it seems, is entirely immune to the many temptations of power.
Ceridwen Dovey's debut is a welcome addition to the important tradition of allegorical writing about political upheaval and personal guilt. Her clever, magnetic story will resonate with fans of J. M. Coetzee, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Gabriel García Márquez.
"Anthropology doctoral student Dovey's smart debut novel traces events in the lives of three functionaries in the entourage of the president of an unnamed country who is overthrown by the 'Commander.' Dovey divides the book into three sections. The first section is devoted to the three men: the president's chef, barber and portraitist. The second section is told by three women: the chef's daughter, the barber's late brother's fiance and the portraitist's wife. The third section operates as a coda, bringing about a second coup. The Commander imprisons the three men in the presidential residence, thinking, at first, of punishing them as subordinates to the old regime. (The portraitist's wife is also imprisoned, for reasons that are obvious to everyone but the cuckolded portraitist.) However, as the Commander samples the chef's food and the barber's skills, he softens his stance toward them. As for the portraitist, he proves too pathetic to punish. Meanwhile, the barber and the Commander's wife commence a dangerous affair, and the chef tries to figure out how to use it to his advantage. Dovey's prose gives the events an air of magic and allows this small, fable-like story to plainly illustrate the old axiom about power's ability to corrupt." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Dovey's novel is refreshingly spiky and precise, its insights startling and original....This is one fable that is short on general principles, long on hard-edged specifics. (Grade: A-)" Entertainment Weekly
"Anthropologist-turned-novelist Dovey's debut is eloquent, subversive, and likely the beginning of an illustrious literary career." Booklist
"Simultaneously sensuous and claustrophobic, the novel charts deception, estrangement and the recognition of power's inevitably corrupting tendency....A dense, dark, impressively controlled first work. Not for optimists." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] fine first novel....Six distinctive voices is a lot to ask of a writer under 30, and the book's lack of them makes Blood Kin a slightly richer intellectual experience than it is an emotional one. It is, however, formidable on its own terms." The Los Angeles Times
"Part erotic thriller, part menacing political allergory, [Blood Kin is] Ceridwen Dovey's haunting debut....Dovey infuses each character with humanity and brilliantly reveals how banal acts like cooking and shaving can become charged with longing and political intent." Vogue
"This cautionary tale, a character study of power and caprice, is highly recommended." Library Journal
"Dovey's surgical prose and cool apprehension of the machinations of ambition and lust make her a writer to watch." O, The Oprah Magazine
"Splendid debut novel [about] power, political and personal, and its dangerous ineffability." Bookforum
"A compact but ambitious fable....Dovey displays a mastery over her material and the pacing of her narrative worthy of a much more experienced writer." Elle Magazine
"Chilly, elegant and cruel, this debut novel from a young South African writer is a stark meditation on absolute power's ability to corrupt anyone who comes into contact with it, no matter how humble the connection." Seattle Times
Rarely does a debut novel attract the sweeping critical acclaim of Ceridwen Dovey's Blood Kin
. Shortlisted for two prestigious awards, this tale centers around a military coup in an unnamed country, with characters who have no names or any identifying physical characteristics. Known simply as the ex-President's chef, barber, and portrait painter, these three men perform their mundane tasks and appear unaware of the atrocities of their employer's regime. But when the President is deposed, the trio are revealed as less than innocent. A deeply chilling yet sensual novel, Blood Kin
illustrates Lord Acton's famous quip, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely," and marks the beginning of an illustrious literary career.
About the Author
Ceridwen Dovey grew up in South Africa and Australia. A graduate of Harvard University, she is now a doctoral student in anthropology at New York University. Her stories "Vasbyt" and "Coma Karma" were selected for the anthology African Road: New Writing from Southern Africa, judged by J. M. Coetzee.