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The Darling Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (October 12, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060197358
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060197353
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,352,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Russell Banks brings to life in The Darling another political-historical narrative of great scope and range. As in Continental Drift and Rule of the Bone, racial issues are explored; as in Cloudsplitter, idealism runs off the rails. Banks always makes it work because he keeps it real.

The "darling" of the story is Dawn Carrington, neé Hannah Musgrave, a political radical and member of the Weather Underground forced to flee America to avoid arrest. At the time of the novel, she is 59, living on her working farm in upstate New York with four younger women, recalling her life in Liberia and her recent return to that country to look for her sons. "Mainly, we return to a place in order to learn why we left," she says. For Hannah, the decision was harrowing. She abandoned her sons during a bloody civil war, after the death of her husband, Woodrow Sundiata, a black African Cabinet Minister in President Samuel Doe's government, who is beheaded in front of her and her three boys. Banks explores mercilessly the corruption, greed, sloth, cynicism, and violence running through the Liberian leaders from Tolbert to Doe to Charles Taylor, weaving the real story of the horrors of West Africa with the fictional narrative of Hannah and Woodrow. He can take history off the page, bringing to life the times, people and events he recounts.

Hannah was born a child of privilege and chafed against it from her youth: " was an old impulse ... this desire to separate myself in the dance of life from the people who had brought me and become one instead with the people excluded from the dance..." Her father is a famous pediatrician, her mother a shadow figure maintaining a predictably correct suburban household. Both parents are liberal, but Hannah outstrips their political stance early on. They are estranged for many years because of her flight, but the separation is really much deeper than distance or politics.

She becomes a wife and mother, and is bored and unfulfilled by the role. She turns to creating a sanctuary for chimpanzees and finds her real purpose. "An old pattern. It's how since childhood I have made my daily life worth living, by turning tedium and despair into a cause." She names each chimp, calls them her "dreamers," and cares for them while others care for her children. Self-knowledge is not high on a list of her personal attributes. Although she characterizes herself as "a darling," there is little evidence to support her claim: distant father, cold mother, controlling husband. She finally sees herself in a true light: "Here it all was again: the names and dates, the tired facts of my biography up to then, the description of my few skills and talents. It was the CV of a small-time, would-be domestic terrorist. Sad. Pathetic." Hannah Musgrave is a visitor in her own life, never really connecting with anyone; more a dreamer than a darling.

Russell Banks has, once again in The Darling, shown himself to be one of the finest novelists writing today. He has written very convincingly, in a woman's voice, a story of youthful idealism destroyed by the real world, of a woman who connected more completely with chimps than with humans, and who says, "once it was clear to me that I would have to abandon my husband and children and return alone to the United States, once I saw that I would be alone, safe from prosecution--I realized, gradually at first and then in a rush, that it was exactly what I had wanted all along… I was once again seizing an opportunity to abandon one life for another." Another reinvention for Hannah. --Valerie Ryan

From Publishers Weekly

Six years after the publication of his much-lauded novel Cloudsplitter, Banks returns with a portrayal of personal and political turmoil in West Africa and the U.S. The darling of the title is narrator Hannah Musgrave, a privileged child of the turbulent 1960s and '70s, who now, at 59, reflects on her life. After participating in freewheeling sexual experimentation and radical politics, Hannah is wanted by the FBI for her involvement in the Weather Underground. Under an assumed name, she flees the U.S. for Africa, traveling first to Ghana, then Liberia, where in 1976 she meets and marries Woodrow Sundiata, a government official. Taking on another identity—that of foreign wife, and eventually mother to three sons—Hannah finds herself increasingly involved with the highest members of Liberia's government as Woodrow's political star rises. She also finds purpose in establishing a sanctuary for endangered chimpanzees. When Liberia explodes into civil war, Hannah's life and the lives of her family are in danger. Readers will be stunned by the gut-wrenching (and often foolish) decisions she makes—and by the horrifying outcome of her association with key figures such as Liberian president Samuel Doe and insurgent Charles Taylor. An articulate and keenly observant narrator, Hannah explains Liberia's history and U.S. connections as smoothly as she reflects on tribal practices, the fate of chimpanzees and her own misguidedness. Better yet, for the purposes of good storytelling, she is conflicted and selfish, and often naïve despite her wide experience. She emerges as a fascinating figure, striking universal chords in her search for identity and home, though her life may ultimately be a study in futility. A rich and complex look at the searing connections between the personal and the political, this is one of Banks's most powerful novels yet.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Russell Banks is the author of sixteen works of fiction, many of which depict seismic events in US history, such as the fictionalized journey of John Brown in Cloudsplitter. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous international prizes, and two of his novels-The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction-have been made into award-winning films. His forthcoming novel, The Reserve, will be published in early 2008. President of the International Parliament of Writers and former New York State Author, Banks lives in upstate New York.

Customer Reviews

The fact that I didn't like her, however, doesn't mean that I didn't like the book.
Emily Lewis
Mr. Banks unfolds a story with a confident narrative voice and a protagonist who is as compelling as she is unlikeable.
Once started, I could not put this book down and flew through it in a few days of spare-time reading.
KathyAnn Walsh

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By M. G Haury on October 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Russell Banks is a master at evoking a time and place. In his latest novel, The Darling, the reader is in Africa. It is the mid-1970s. We can see the Liberian coastline, smell the palm oil mingled with sweat, hear the screech of the chimpanzees and feel the claustrophobic heat. More importantly, we experience western Africa through the lens of a privileged, white American woman, Hannah Musgrove who is "the darling" of the title. Banks tells this historical and political story, most of it in flashbacks, skillfully and successfully through the point of view of this woman.

Hannah is a fascinating character, full of tensions and contradictions. She has lead a sheltered life of wealth as the daughter of a famous and intellectual man, yet her politically liberal parents have instilled in her (sometimes seemingly in spite of themselves) a sincere empathy for the poor and oppressed. She is cold and calculating in her relationships with others yet has an almost mystical connection with the chimpanzees she comes to know and love and is passionate about her politics. Hannah makes some decisions, which she feels she needs to contextualize and explain herself to the reader in order not to seem "scary". To dwell on the plot, however, does this gem of a novel a disservice. Banks is simply a genius at conveying a difficult story and doing it so well that we care deeply about it.
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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Ron Franscell, Author of 'The Darkest Night' on October 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Russell Banks has made his mark writing about mad people in significantly unsettled worlds, from the Pulitzer Prize-finalist "Cloudsplitter" (about violent abolitionist John Brown) to "Affliction" (about an alcoholic's insidious effect on his circle of dysfunction.)

But in his newest novel, "The Darling," he subtly reverses his field with provocative results: His heroine is a significantly unsettled character in a mad world. What might seem a nuance is actually quite startlingly different.

Africa has popped up in the well-traveled Banks' stories before. The setting for some of the storytelling in his 2001 short-story collection, "Angel on the Roof," it provides an atmospheric context for complex exploration of black and white, head and heart, man and beast, love and survival ... sanity and madness.

Banks' themes of terror, self-doubt, the collision of races (if not worlds), the relentless passage of time, and political violence are not the stuff of modern commercial book-publishing, but he keeps coming back to them with incisive style.

Banks remains one of America's most readable literary authors. He's always tackled grand issues with grand prose, and his muscular narrative generally wins. Often compared to Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad or William Faulkner -- not the most accessible trio of literary writers ever assembled -- Banks sets himself apart as more clear, if not more relevant, for today's readers. Readers who fell headlong into "The Sweet Hereafter" or "Continental Drift" will not be disabused by "The Darling."
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Alan Mills VINE VOICE on May 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Like all the novels Darling works on several different levels. First, it is a good story . . . kept moving, good characters, suspense, enough moving back and forth in time to tantalize you, but not so much as to totally confuse you. So, it is simply a good read.

It also worked as a "coming of age" story-although, read as just that, it would of course be a little over the top. Nonetheless, she goes through all the "typical" stages of adolescent rebellion (Weather Underground), forbidden love, independence from parents (how much more independent can you be than moving to Africa and never speaking to them!), marriage, child rearing, divorce/distance in marriage, empty nest syndrome, and replacement of familial ties with other objects of passion (here the chimps), death of parent, an attempt recapture "youth" (her trip back to Africa), and a second life post-retirement. During each phase she clearly develops a new personality (or at least changes in significant ways).

It also reads as a commentary on U.S. Foreign policy-which is what I think is implied in the title. Here she is, having gone through all of these "phases" in her personal life-joining a revolutionary underground which actually blows things up, fomenting revolution and mass slaughter in an African country, and living as a fugitive for decades. However, while the lives of everyone in Liberia are completely upended and made a living hell because of that country's revolution(s), her life ends up being virtually unaffected-she ends up as a "gentleman" farmer, about as normal an occupation as there is in the world, and all of her revolutionary activities, at least in this country, have, in the end, changed nothing-except her. Hence, she is, at the end, nothing but an "American Darling".
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
"Mainly, we return to a place in order to learn why we left," writes Hannah Musgrave, the narrator-protagonist of this many-layered book. Now approaching sixty, she returns one more time to war-torn Liberia where she had lived for much of her adult life. The learning about why she left provides the narrative mainspring of the book. The Graham Greene-like story set in the midst of the Liberian civil war (including several real characters) is fascinating and often intensely atmospheric. But (at the price of an interior monologue that can occasionally get a bit repetitious) its larger purpose is to illuminate Hannah's inner journey. An upper-middle-class baby boomer (her father seems based on Dr. Benjamin Spock), turned radical activist, alienated from country and family, she finally finds a kind of peace running a chimpanzee sanctuary as a kind of Liberian Jane Goodall.

But it is also true that we go away in order to better understand the place we came from. And this is the surprising reward of the book, a resonance that keeps growing after one stops reading. From the very beginning, you know you are in the hands of a master. Hannah first introduces herself running a quiet farm in upstate New York surrounded entirely by women. A few pages later, she is being smuggled back into the devastation of Liberia. In Banks' hands, the contrast between the two worlds is magnificently handled, and the brightness of one illuminates the darkness of the other. Or conversely, the darkness make the light more precious. While this is a book about a strong woman in extraordinary circumstances, her life nonetheless sheds light upon the ordinary passages of ordinary lives: the search for identity, sexual discovery, parenthood, coming to terms with one's own parents, and the quest for meaning.
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