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The Second Life of Samuel Tyne Hardcover – August 3, 2004

3.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Racial discord and family strife shadow this dense, moody tale of a black family and its troubles settling into a new town in Alberta, Canada. In 1968, soft-spoken West African–born Samuel Tyne inherits his reclusive Uncle Jacob's mansion in the town of Aster, formerly settled by black families out of Oklahoma. Stifled in his Calgary civil service job and hoping for a second chance at happiness, Samuel hastily relocates Maud, his crass, chilly wife, and their sneering, eccentric, "stone-like" twin daughters, Chloe and Yvette. Introverted Ama, the twins' asthmatic school friend, joins them for the summer, but soon grows terrified of everyone. As his home life becomes increasingly troubling, Samuel tinkers away in his new electronics repair shop, devising a computer prototype. Meanwhile, embittered Maud finds herself powerless against the increasingly menacing (and indistinguishable) twins, whose torturous treatment of Ama becomes the springboard for more hideous violence. Neighbors like Ray and Eudora Frank, a blunt, imposing couple-about-town, and rumored warlock Saul Porter, are friendly at first, but reveal their true colors after a fiery conclusion pits neighbor against neighbor, and vicious storefront vandalism returns Samuel to his "graveyard of an empty life." Edugyan's elegiac, shimmering prose makes up for the lack of sunny skies in this impressively conceived and well-executed debut.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Samuel Tyne was a promising student who emigrated from West Africa to England and ended up as a bureaucrat in Canada. Married to a fellow West African emigre, father of twin adolescent daughters, Tyne longs to break out of the inertia of his life. He leaps at the chance for escape presented by an inheritance from his uncle Jacob, who had accompanied Samuel from Africa to America, then lived a reclusive life in the small town of Aster, a town founded by American blacks escaping slavery and racism in the U.S. Reinventing himself as an electronics-shop owner and tinkerer with computing machines, Samuel expects to find personal liberation and a second chance at life. Instead, the crumbling mansion and small town compound the sullenness of his wife and daughters. The girls' summer companion, Ama, is the first to note the troubling changes in the twins, long used to creating their own world. Edugyan's beautifully rendered first novel offers a haunting look at personal longing and family obligations. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Amistad; First Edition edition (August 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060736038
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060736033
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,470,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
We all dream of a better place. Be it the Garden of Eden or Thomas More's Utopia, the idea of a safe, sane, and just world has always captured the human imagination and striving for it has shaped human endeavor.

Esi Edugyan's debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne (HarperCollins, anticipated publication 2004), chronicles one man's pursuit of his personal heaven. Fifteen years after his immigration from West Africa to Canada, Samuel Tyne is stagnating in a dead-end government job and foundering as a husband and father. When he inherits his uncle's Alberta mansion in the town of Aster, he moves there over the protests of his wife and twin daughters. Settled by former American slaves who fled to Canada, the once all-black Aster is fabled to be the place of second chances. But the Tynes encounter a much different reality. A mysterious arsonist is terrorizing the town and, as Samuel's daughters become increasingly unstable and aggressive, the hostile eyes of Aster all turn towards the Tynes.

For a first novel, penned at the age of 25, Edugyan's work is impressive, exploring as it does our deepest desires for community and a chance to fulfill our truest dreams. With an elegance unexpected in an artist so young, the author plumbs the tragedy of a paradise just shy of fulfillment and ponders whether our actions create our nature or if our nature determines our actions.

In many ways, Samuel's story is a brilliant vehicle for these questions. To have imagined a utopia unrealized may be worse the inability to imagine it at all. Edugyan seems, almost inadvertently, to have tapped into the idea that the capacity for such fantasy is the source of human misery and madness.
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Format: Hardcover
Samuel Tyne is a novel with multiple themes, from the cultural conflicts of an African couple settling in an Alberta town, to the blight of dealing with psychotic children. Esi seems to delight in making situations just a little bleaker than they might be in real life: thus Samuel, while working for the Canadian government, has a father-son set of bosses who are bizarre without being in any way humorous. Sometimes the novel is very alive and engrossing, mostly it is bleak and unrewarding. The two most interesting and well drawn characters are secondary characters: the Tyne's white "friends" in their small town. Incidentally, there is nothing mysterious about the ending, as a reviewer wrote, it is quite clear who committed the crime.
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Format: Hardcover
Praise comes cheap in the literary world and Edugyan has been so highly touted by the likes of the New Yorker and Joyce Carol Oates and the Globe and Mail that one can't help but be suspicious. I picked Second Life up thinking, "Great, just what we need, another important new voice." But this truly is an astonishing first novel. Despite its "gothic" elements it is never anything but literary and uncompromisingly so - do not buy this book if you like Stephen King, you will be disappointed. The ending is not "obscure" but rather "mysterious"; a crime is left unsolved but the emotional turmoil surrounding this is addressed with a terrifying delicacy. And that is really what the novel is concerned with, it seems - not who did what to whom at precisely what moment, but how it is possible to go on in the face of failure and loss. The book is funny and heartbreaking and very wise and it is in the end about all of us. While Samuel Tyne is a black man and living in Canada and while the novel addresses this, the book is not about "race" at all and to suggest otherwise seems to me a misreading of the book. It is no more a novel about blackness than David Adams Richards' novels are about whiteness (in fact this novel made me think of Mercy Among the Children). Edugyan is interested in the human condition, in the hopes and failures and potential for redemption we all share. I was blown away.
This is not "beach reading." Buy the latest Margaret Atwood or Maeve Binchy if you have an airplane to catch. But if you want compelling literature by one of our future stars, read this.
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Format: Hardcover
I applaud Esi Edugyan for raising the high bar of American Fiction just a bit higher with this debut. This novel about an eccentric family legacy pitted against an arduous culture makes for an astonishing read. Even though the author uses a narrative that often tells more than it shows, she clearly makes up for this with an intuitive character dialogue that makes the second chance at life for Samuel Tyne ominous!
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Format: Hardcover
This book was to long and drawn out. The author went into way more detail than I needed. The author was to descriptive and use a lot of "million dollar" words. The book has lots of slow parts this is not a quick read. Sometimes I would have to read the pages two and three times to make it stick. I found myself bored and daydreaming while reading this book. It was page 235 before the book became a "page turner".

This was a bookclub selection. The book was a very good discussion book. We really tried to understand every bit of what the author was trying to get over.

The ending was not clear who was left standing...it left you to make that decision.
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