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Mara and Dann: An Adventure Paperback – December 22, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Question: What do Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear and Doris Lessing's Mara and Dann have in common? Answer: an ice age. Not the same ice age, of course--Auel's series of prehistoric adventures took place 35,000 years ago, during the last global freeze; Lessing's tale, on the other hand, is set several thousand years in the future, during the next one. Nevertheless, both books are concerned with profound shifts in the development of humankind. In Lessing's imagined world, the Northern Hemisphere is completely covered with ice and humanity has retreated south. In a land called Ifrik, young Mara and her even younger brother, Dann, are kidnapped one night from their family home and taken to live among strangers: "The scene that the child, then the girl, then the young woman tried so hard to remember was clear enough in its beginnings. She had been hustled--sometimes carried, sometimes pulled along by the hand--through a dark night, nothing to be seen but stars, and then she was pushed into a room and told, Keep quiet." We soon learn that the children have been stolen for their own good, though it will be some time before we discover why. Growing up in a drought-parched land, Mara and Dann learn at an early age how to survive both the hostile environment and enemy peoples.

Eventually, conditions grow so bad in Ifrik that an entire continent of people begin a great northern migration. As Mara and Dann walk the length of the land, Lessing takes the opportunity to comment on the lost cities and vanished civilizations whose remains dot the landscape. That these ancient ruins belong to our civilization makes Mara's curiosity about them resonate eerily. Danger dogs every step; the children are captured by different, warring groups and their destinies take very different paths. A political novelist first and foremost, Lessing uses her futuristic fable to comment on the sins and foibles of humanity as it is now--on war and slavery, sexism and racism--and on its one saving grace, the ability to love. --Margaret Prior --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Tenderly perceptive, Lessing's first far-future novel since her celebrated Canopus in Argos: Archives series of the late 1970s-mid '80s features two appealing orphans precariously reaching adulthood on Earth thousands of years from now. The Ice Age brought on by the ecological rapaciousness of today's society is receding, bringing lethal drought to the Southern land of "Ifric," where a power struggle in her family has stranded seven-year-old Mara, who is fiercely caring for her even younger brother, Dann, in a remote village of neo-Neanderthals. Even under desperate conditions, Mara's thirst for knowledge outpaces the thirst for water that, over the years, drives her?sometimes alone and sometimes accompanied by Dann, who as he grows up insists on following his own dreams?toward the icy North, where remnants of Earth's old technological glories await. She and Dann endure numerous hardships and adventures along the way: Dann becomes addicted to "the poppy" and gambles Mara away on a roll of the dice; Mara works as a spy and is kidnapped to be a "breeder." Lessing spins a glowing hymn to human endurance around the sweet, shrewd, indefatigable Mara, one of her most engaging heroines. Though Lessing sanitizes Voltaire's savage satire of Western civilization here, her innocent-but-canny Mara proves as effective as Candide at surviving the worst and celebrating the best that human beings can do to one another. This novel is a resounding affirmation of humanity and what it holds dearest, from one of our most gifted storytellers.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 407 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (December 22, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006093056X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060930561
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,332,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By D. Cloyce Smith on July 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
A great fan both of Doris Lessing and of science fiction, I have no idea how the publication of this book escaped my attention: it's a marvel. Lessing has visited the future before, in her five-volume Canopus in Argos series, but this book bears little resemblance to her earlier opus. Sporting less philosophy and more "adventure" (and not as challenging to read as many of Lessing's books), the novel seems aimed at a broader audience; I even suspect she may have written this story with the "young adult" market in mind.
Set in Africa thousands of years in the future, after cataclysmic events have destroyed civilization and towards the end of a new Ice Age, the novel certainly boasts plenty of coy references to fossilized and bastardized remnants of our own era. Yet, in spite of its futuristic veneer, "Mara and Dann" has more in common with many fantasy novels than with science fiction. Lessing's plot is modeled after a sword-and-dragon tale: their parents slaughtered, siblings Mara and Dann are spirited away from their homeland during the calamities prompted by an unrelenting famine and drought. As the heat wave advances north, they flee up the continent, searching for a new paradise.
Some of the reviews in the press fault the book for being repetitious, and those notices may have, unfortunately, turned off some readers.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Doris Lessing has many strengths as a novelist, and many of them work together in Mara and Dann. First, she creates a realistic world that, although not our own, has enough recognizable points to hang an emotional connection upon. Second, she links the concrete "real" world of survival with the needs for love, and the social-political (in the broadest sense)network, which very few authors do, or can do. Third, she tells a ripping good yarn that you can hardly put down (I was up till 1:30 last night finishing it!)
Mara and Dann are fascinating characters in a world where survival is a day-by-day matter. Nonetheless, they look for love and security and knowledge in their trek, together or apart. How people organize themselves in slave states, military dictatorships or village bully-states, all impact on their survival. Although the face of the planet has changed so much, how we continue to repeat the same old stories. One ubiquitous world story is that of the Quest, and the endless drive north in this book, although prompted often by obvious physical needs, is a true Quest, and demonstrates even how people, even those with not enough to drink, need a dream of something better, somewhere. As someone suffering from wanderlust, I identified with the need to move on, and perhaps a good companion book to this would by Songlines by Bruce Chatwin. I was also impressed by the contradictory needs for stability, and how many of the cities and tribes travelled through would ignore all the bad omens in nature and rumour in order to protect what they had, until a crisis finally forced flight upon them.
Doris Lessing is a great writer - she sets up a clear mirror in which we see ourselves in lights and circumstances where both human strengths and frailties are spotlit without sentimentality. I highly recommend this book.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Louis N. Gruber VINE VOICE on November 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
A little girl and her baby brother are suddenly ripped from a life of ease and safety and thrust into a life-long adventure, fleeing for their lives in a world gone mad. Lawlessness and social disintegration run rampant, hard on the heels of pervasive drought which will soon make their world uninhabitable. The story takes place far in the future, in a continent called Ifrik (Africa), at a time when our present civilization is buried beneath a new ice age.
How will the brother and sister survive? How will they change? What is the meaning behind their incredible adventures? As they move slowly and painfully north, from one disastrous situation to another, North becomes a metaphor for everyone's search--the place where things will somehow be better. The place where life will have meaning. As always, Lessing is creating more than an adventure; it is also a commentary on the human condition, on the rise and fall of civilization, on the desperate human wish to ignore bad news and cling to a comfortable present, on the thoughtless destruction of the environment, on meaningless cruelty, on tribalism, on hope and hopelessness.
It takes a little effort to get started, to travel this hot, dry, dusty road with Mara and Dann, but the adventure soon takes hold of you and draws you onward. You also have to go North. This book is a masterpiece.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By J. mcevoy on April 6, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the tale of the survival and adventures of two interesting characters in the distant future after much of civilization has declined on the earth. At every point, the reader could cynically question the believability of the details of what happens, but it is much more fun to be carried along for the ride. This is an adult "Chronicles of Narnia" with themes about loyalty and hope. Lessing carries the story energetically along, and there is always something new. The most difficult character is Dann. I am guessing that his mercurial changeability is meant to result from his early abuse, but it does get a bit tiresome, and you wonder why someone doesn't suggest he try to do better. Lessing is a "big" author. She just seems to have stories spout from her as from a spring, and they tumble down the hillside in somewhat unruly manner. If you want perfection of plot and style, she may not be your cup of tea. If you want a boundless and sympathetic exposition of human frailties and human efforts at goodness, you will find her wonderful
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