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The Civilized World: A Novel in Stories Paperback – March 29, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 226 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (March 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805093621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805093629
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #279,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this smart, urbane debut, characters strive for understanding within a cacophonous modern landscape. Two parallel but conflicting stories open and close the collection, to moving effect: Adjoa and her twin brother, Kojo, are migrant workers from Ghana, having lived for 12 years in the Ivory Coast, saving up to make enough money to return and start a hair salon. Adjoa is serious and single-minded about her mission, but Kojo's impatience at gaining fast money prompts him to get involved in the robbery of the home of Adjoa's wealthy American employer, Janice. The reckless act ends tragically, and Adjoa has to carry a heavy load of guilt back to Accra, where she opens her salon and tries to find a good husband who won't take advantage of her or her business. Elsewhere, Janice reappears on a road trip in the Central African Republic and at an Ethiopian orphanage, where she intends to adopt a child on her own. Wyss offers nuanced takes on vastly different corners of Africa, transcending travelogue to achieve resonant narratives—sometimes funny, sometimes stark—with both grit and heart. (Apr.)
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Review

"In The Civilized World, almost all the characters live, whether from choice or necessity, between countries and cultures. I am full of admiration for how vividly Susi Wyss brings Africa to life and for the empathy with which she explores the longings of her characters, African and American, for children, home, money, work and family. A beautiful and timely book."--Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street"

"What [Wyss] does best in her literary debut is depict the akward striving of individuals trying to maintain their own mores and routines while surrounded by an alien set of values and expectations...Unique and memorable."--The Boston Globe

"These insightful stories, some set in a beauty salon, explore the moving, often clueless relationships between Ghanaian and American women."--O Magazine

In this smart, urbane debut...Wyss offers nuanced takes on vastly different corners of Africa, transcending travelogue to achieve resonant narratives--sometimes funny, sometimes stark--with both grit and heart."--Publishers Weekly

"Wyss grants her appealing characters a mesmerizing mixture of fresh starts, second chances, forgiveness, and redemption."--Booklist

"[Wyss] beautifully and effortlessly captures the essence of human connection, demonstrating that despite the cultural and personal differences that separate individuals, we are often related by common threads."—Library Journal


More About the Author

Susi Wyss's fiction is influenced by her twenty-year career managing women's health programs in Africa, where she lived for more than eight years. Her work has appeared in numerous literary magazines and has been recognized by awards from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, among others. She holds a B.A. from Vassar, an M.P.H. from Boston University, and an M.A. in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University. For more information, visit her website at: www.susiwyss.com.

Customer Reviews

Remarkable character development for a series of short stories.
Momorama
Susi Wyss is a masterful writer, bringing the reader in with descriptive scenery and easily relatable characters.
Melissa
And can also invite the reader into a universe of greater understanding.
Patricia A. Schultheis

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Live2Cruise VINE VOICE on March 29, 2011
Format: Paperback
Comprised of nine stories told from the perspective of five female characters, "The Civilized World" is a tapestry of interwoven lives that fascinates from beginning to end.

The characters include Janice, an American working in Africa for a health organization; Adjoa, a Ghanian who goes to work in the Ivory Coast to raise money to open a beauty salon back home; Ophelia, an expatriate who is adjusting to living on another continent; Comfort, a new widow, and Linda, Comfort's American daughter-in-law.

Because there are several characters and settings, the novel provides a snapshot of everyday life in Africa, both from the perspective of an insider and that of an outsider. Despite the breadth of characters, however, there is no shortage of depth, and the reader gets to know each character well. As the novel progresses the threads are pulled more tightly together until we see how interconnected these women really are.

A fascinating exploration of culture, a thoughtful meditation on what it really means to be civilized, and a touching portrait of the bonds between women, make this a thought-provoking and highly enjoyable read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Lynn Chase on March 31, 2011
Format: Paperback
you can be comfortable with--and thoroughly enjoy--Wyss's storytelling. Plots/subplots, characters, scenes are very clearly and vividly presented, and yet you almost have the sense that the stories are happening in real-time/real-life and that nothing is guaranteed or all worked out, further along in the pages, simply waiting for you to discover it. To me, that is exciting. You are as much on your own as are the characters in trying to navigate their own paths through complex personal and social situations. But Wyss makes sure we have time to do a little sight-seeing along the way--treating us to many beautiful and provocative views of the unfamiliar (to many of us) African countries where most of the novel takes place. Looking back on the book, I am always struck by how visual my recollections are, as happens with a good movie whose most powerful images and moments file themselves away among those from your very own life, as though you went through them yourself. I can understand the previous reviewer's comment about passion, but each of the main characters in Wyss's book is whole-heartedly pursuing her desires. However, she is doing so--whether through wisdom/experience, self-discipline, wariness, whatever--with a healthy respect for things that are beyond her control or understanding. And there are many. This is a truly unique and worthy read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By emmagirl on August 11, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Civilized World is a moving and extremely satisfying set of stories. It provides heartfelt insight into the world of African women in their homeland and America and American women in Africa and the US. Having straddled both worlds, I was particularly struck by how amazingly real the characters felt - it was like I knew them all while at the same time I was gaining new insights into people I had met in the past and maybe never really "saw." The author does an amazing job of making each story feel complete on its own yet also part of the larger whole. You can't help but feel empathy and compassion for the characters as they struggle with choices about love, parenting and beyond. This is a powerful and beautiful read - take it with you on your next trip, whether abroad on some adventure, or just to the beach!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By scarecrow VINE VOICE on May 14, 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When I read a book that comes with author interviews, bio and other supplemental materials I usually don't read them until I have finished the book. I prefer to experience the writing for it's own sake rather than have my experience colored by issues outside of the story. I have read a number of novels that use the device of separate stories that initially do not seem related but as the story progresses the links become clear. It's a very realistic way to write. After all, we generally don't have all the "facts" that govern relationships in real life, we have to wait to see what will develop. I was disappointed after reading the first story and only reluctantly moved on to the second. The writing was immature, not fully formed---something I would expect from a writing workshop, not a published work. The publishers blurbs led me to expect more from the author, it sounded like a subject that would allow the author to reveal some interesting insights into the African cultures that are the setting of the novel.

So finding myself unimpressed with the first two stories I broke my reader rule and looked thru the supplementary materials. What I learned was that this novel had been written over a number of years, the first story while completing a master's in fiction. Now I had something to engage my interest, observing the stylistic development of the writer. I'm glad I stayed the course as there is a noticeable increase in skill and complexity. I found it stimulating to focus on style and technique rather than my more usual seeking an experience of a different point of view/culture.

This novel offers an interesting insight into the writer's art and in the end made we curious to read Wyuss' next book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Marya Plotkin on June 23, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Susi Wyss's novel is a quiet joy to read. Not flashy or full of action, but full of reflections of real, lived experience, recognition that while people experience a few heart stopping moments in their lives (loss of a loved one, violent crime) much of our lives are engaged with less exciting but no less important experiences and negotiations (caring for a grandchild, hairdressing, attending a wedding). The engaging aspect of the book for me is Wyss's observations of human character, through the presentation of both the everyday and the extraordinary experiences of the women in this book. The book captures both negative and positive reflections of the women in their actions and thoughts, but in the end is a "feel-good" book in that the women are portrayed with a generosity of spirit. We forgive them their shortcomings, want resolution for them, and are granted resolution in a unpretentious way.

In addition to the realistic but generous depiction of her characters, Wyss has also succeeded beautifully in bringing the setting to life for the reader. In reading, we feel the wind move, smell pungent smells, feel the brush of a butterfly, feel the spray of a waterfall. We experience the delightful, like unusual names, and the comforting, like a conversation while having hair shampooed in a salon.

Reading the book is a treat. For readers who love warm and descriptive prose, musing on human nature, Africa, and have faith in the overall though complicated goodness of people (and especially women)...I bet this will be your favorite read of the year!
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