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The Nature of Blood Paperback – April 28, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Edition edition (April 28, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679776753
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679776758
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #647,972 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Like his earlier works, the novels Cambridge and Crossing the River, Caryl Phillips's The Nature of Blood is made up of several stories that take place over a large span of time. The result of this innovative technique is that themes, characters, and incidents resonate against one another, and history is seen not as a straight line but as a circle or a spiral. In one story, a Jewish man abandons his family to fight for the state of Israel. In another, the Moor Othello, another soldier who has left his family, comes to Venice. There, he visits the Jewish ghetto and finds himself astounded that "they should choose to live in this manner." Phillips's most daring feat in this provocative and thoughtful novel, however, may be to write in the first person about a Holocaust survivor just after World War II. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A range of characters inhabit Phillips's new novel?a Jewish doctor who gives up family and security to fight for Israel; the Jews of 15th-century Portobufole, outside Venice, who are tolerated as useful but arrested and tortured when rumor of a Gentile child's blood sacrifice gets going; Othello, honored in Venice but ever the outsider ("my friend, an African river bears no resemblance to a Venetian canal. Only the strongest spirit can hold together both"); and an Ethiopian Jewish woman, ignorant of the modern world, who has returned home to Israel. At the heart of the novel?but not exactly holding together its shimmering, disparate parts?is Eva Stern, niece of the crusading Jewish doctor, who recounts tensions in her family before World War II devastates Europe and then the horror of concentration and d.p. camps in an unadorned, dispassionate voice. Not as compactly written as works like Phillips's Cambridge (LJ 2/1/92), this novel nevertheless evokes a sense of the outsider's awful burden throughout time. Recommended for most collections.?Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Caryl Phillips is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction. His novel A Distant Shore won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and his other awards include the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and lives in New York.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Amazing, beautiful book that tells some profound truths.
Nell B
The two seemingly disparate stories are connected thematically, rather than narratively, as the book alternates from character to character and across time lines.
Mary Whipple
The Nature of Blood is an extraordinary novel that embeds individual stories within the larger history of racial politics in Europe.
Debbie Lee Wesselmann

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By nikicole@mindless.com on November 8, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Life does not exist in a vacuum. Chain of events do occur, relationships about the past and the present exist, and comparisons between various attitudes and time periods can be made. The Nature of Blood, by Caryl Phillips is a very powerful novel that does not just focus on one aspect of a given situation, but does indeed take a more realistic approach on the subject of prejudice by broadening the problem into several distinct but comparable stories. Each story adds a new dimension or nuance to describe this problem that has always existed, and because of this the book evolves into four connecting stories that are somewhat disjoint in the handling of each situation, but ultimately fit into a cohesive pattern.
In the beginning of the novel, the reader may only believe that the book is about the sad character, Eva, who was victimized by the holocaust. Her compelling story is very reminiscent of Schindler's List in the horrific descriptions of life and death in the camps, but with the intimacy of The Diary of Anne Frank in the first-person perspective. Eva, as the only survivor of her immediate family, is transformed from an innocent, naive, and normal girl into a young woman whose words have a deep heaviness and the strange kind of sadness that one has when experiencing that emotion so long that it almost becomes indifference.
As the author switches from Eva to the Jewish bankers of not quite 500 years prior, the reader looks for something that will connect the two stories. The characters themselves are unrelated, the setting quite different with one in Portobuffole and the other in Germany, and the scale of disaster much greater in Eva's Germany. However, there are many commonalities between the stories.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In an age like the present, in which even a minor event can sometimes be elevated to a "life-changing experience," one hesitates to say that one short book permanently changed someone's perception of the world, but it did for this reader. I was absolutely stunned by Caryl Philips's The Nature of Blood!

The book deals primarily with Eva, a 21-year-old concentration camp survivor and her life, thoughts, and memories. A second major story line involves Othello, hired by the Doge to lead the Venetian army against the Turks in the late 15th century, and his life and passionate love for Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian aristocrat. The two seemingly disparate stories are connected thematically, rather than narratively, as the book alternates from character to character and across time lines. Two other characters (Eva's uncle and an Ethiopian Jew who immigrates to Israel) have their space here, along with a 15th century trial of Jewish money-lenders in Venice, which connects obliquely with the Othello story.

The novel, which is not linear and does not follow a typical narrative pattern, is very impressionistic, more like a symphony than a traditional novel, with movements and complimentary themes playing in counterpoint to each other, The author experiments successfully with a variety of voices and points of view, switching back and forth through nearly 500 years of history and several pain-filled settings as he illustrates his themes. It is an intense and emotionally involving story of cultural, religious, and ethnic persecution, rivaling Anne Michaels's Fugitive Pieces in its impact. A truly remarkable achievement. Mary Whipple
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on May 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
Caryl Phillips' novel, The Nature of Blood, is an unusual read with its four major storylines shifting the readers focus around the globe and through time. The amazingly wonderful thing is how the author is able to adroitly pull all of these threads together to create a marvelous whole. The tales of prejudice tell a horrifyingly universal story but the individual characters within the stories speak of some hope amidst the anguish. It is a cleverly crafted work that turns history on its head in showing how times change but human emotions remain steadfastly consistent, both good and bad. A short, interesting, powerful read.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 7, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Nature of Blood is an extraordinary novel that embeds individual stories within the larger history of racial politics in Europe. Stephen is a doctor and a militant living in Palestine just before the creation of the state of Israel. A doctor and an indoctrinator, he visits refuge camps where Jews wait to gain entrance into Palestine. The novel then leaps back in time to another camp, though this one more horrific: the concentration camp where young Eva barely lives, physically weak and emotionally numb. Here, she meets Gerry, one of the Americans who liberate the camp, and he becomes a small, tenuous lifeline. Eva's story forms the heart of the story, as we glimpse both happier times and the depth of the psychological toll her short life has taken. The novel then tumbles even further back in time, to 15th century Venice, where Jews live in walled ghettoes and can be accused of crimes based on rumor. Here, we meet Othello, who explores Venice as a new resident, acutely aware of his outsider status in Venetian society. Phillips briefly delves into other lives: Malka, an Ethiopian Jew who has traveled to Palestine, only to find that her skin color makes her unemployable; and Servadio, a Jewish banker unjustly accused of sacrificing a Christian boy.

These disparate stories are connected through centuries of European mistrust of outsiders, a wariness that periodically gives rise to bursts of hatred and cruelty. The betrayed can become the betrayers. While history gives these stories context, the characters give them power. Eva's unreliable narration evokes the brutality of the Holocaust as powerfully as the details themselves. Stephen's decision to return to Palestine has significance and poignancy, especially because we realize what happens to those he leaves behind.
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