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Empire Settings Hardcover – October 1, 2001

4.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An engaging and poignant account of forbidden love between a privileged 17-year-old white boy and the daughter of a Zulu servant woman under apartheid in 1970s Durban, South Africa marks the literary debut of a Durban-born, but Dartmouth- and Cornell-educated Boston attorney. Fleeing retribution for his taboo relationship and possible reprisal for his mother's liberal political celebrity in 1978, Danny Divin arrives in Boston and marries an impetuous, caring young artist to avoid deportation. Although the marriage bond deepens over the years, Danny cannot shake the bittersweet memory of his first love. Narrated in sequential chapters (with flashbacks) in the voices of Danny, his mother, his sister, the servant, the girl and Danny again, the novel opens 20 years after Danny's arrival in Boston. Danny's mother and her second husband, a once-wealthy entrepreneur whose fortune has diminished in the corrupt South African economy, fly to Boston to persuade Danny to return to Durban to orchestrate the highly illegal transfer of the family's holdings to avoid seizure by the treacherous government. Seduced by the possibility of seeing his former lover again, Danny finally agrees, against his better judgment. The final chapter returns to Danny's voice and time present, recounting his perilous journey home to attempt to save the family fortune and recapture his dream of youthful romance. Between his attempt to accomplish his precarious mission and avoid imprisonment by the government, his quest to find his lost love and his strained fidelity to his wife, a fine edge of suspense is generated. An altogether promising debut. Agent, Peter Matson, Sterling Lord Literistic. 20,000 first printing; $75,000 advertising budget; 8-city author tour; film option to producers of The Handmaid's Tale.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Writing a South African Gone with the Wind, Durban-born lawyer Schmahmann examines the end of the apartheid era through the eyes of the Divan family in his debut novel. We first meet Danny as a grown man who fled to Boston 20 years ago to elude punishment for an illicit relationship with Santi, daughter of their Zulu servant woman. There, he married artist Tessaba to secure a new life. Events of the past and present intermingle as we learn that Danny's mother, Helga, was an avid antiapartheid activist and sister Bridget did jail time. The story then shifts to Helga, Bridget, Santi, her mother, and back to Danny as Schmahmann reveals the Divans' struggles in their native country. At his mother's urging, Danny returns to South Africa to sneak the family's fortune out of the country, but his true mission is to find Santi and confront the past. Schmahmann has not mastered the technique of writing in different voices as Barbara Kingsolver did in The Poisonwood Bible (LJ 9/1/98), but the way the plot gradually reveals its truths is well done, and the changes in South Africa are effectively described. Recommended. Josh Cohen, Mid-Hudson Lib. Syst., Poughkeepsie, NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: White Pine Press; 1st edition (October 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1893996166
  • ISBN-13: 978-1893996168
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,795,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on October 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Empire Settings is a moving and poignant account of forbidden love in a copuntry torn apart by aparthied in the 1970s. It is also a story of a jewish family and the main charachter, Danny Divin's, struggle to find peace with him self and his history. I love that this author was able to write so sensitively and brilliantly about women, in particular women of color in South Africa. The characters in the novel each tell thier story from their own point of view about their experiences of living under apartheid and their own powerlessness to change the political situation. The book is so beautifully written that I instantly became involved with the characters to a point that I did not want the book to end. I look forward to reading more work by this first time author.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this book on a whim, mainly because I have an abiding interest in South Africa. What I found was an exquisitiely written, deeply felt, and historically accurate account of a forbidden relationship in apartheid-era South Africa -- and of adult reconciliation with lost love. I would recommend this novel highly to any aficionado of things South African -- or of beautiful novels. I look forward to his sequel.
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Format: Paperback
I also met David at a book reading for his new book, Nibble and Kuhn. I found both books to be wonderful, but where Nibble and Kuhn was a light-hearted, satiric jab at the legal profession, I sense this book was amazingly personal. It has a lot of emotion in it - not only the romantic story, but about growing up with apartheid, of losing one's country and the longing for that loss. It's well worth reading. Nelson Mandela reviewed it and thought it worthwhile as well.
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Format: Paperback
I am eager to see if future fiction from Mr. Schmahmann has the same very personal voice as this first novel. Although the voices of each narrator is done well, the main character's voice was especially convincing and moving. Definitely high in my ranking of books by emigres, and at least as much about growing up and being dislocated over time as it is about the love story. If you are feeling jaded and bored with the same topical material being used by every book, radio interview, movie and magazine, check this book out.
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Format: Paperback
Five narrators give their spin on Durban, South Africa, during apartheid and after, when they have all gone their separate ways. Three of the narrators are members of the Divin family--mother Helga and her two children, Danny and Bridget. The other two are Baptie, the Divins' servant, and Santi, the daughter of a neighbor's servant. I liked this format and found each new perspective enlightening. Danny has 2 segments, and in the second one, the story lagged a bit as it sank into the cliché of a forbidden love story (with Santi). However, the exuberant finale brought me back to a solid thumbs-up. Another character whose story could/should have been included was that of Tesseba, who meets Danny on a bus after his U.S. visa has expired and volunteers to marry him so that he can avoid deportation. Also noteworthy is the fact that the Divins, particularly Helga, are well-known proponents of social reform. Paradoxically, their servants' quarters are in serious disrepair and among the least inhabitable in the neighborhood, while Silas Divin struggles financially as an exporter during the U.S. embargo. After his death, Helga marries the wealthy, arrogant Arnold, who makes frequent generous offers with no intention of actually making good on them. At least we can rely on him for a little comic relief, until he enlists Danny's help in the dangerous and illegal mission of getting Helga's inheritance out of South Africa.
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Format: Hardcover
I know the author from having opposed him in court (I'm a lawyer, too). I'm also a writer who doesn't like to see authors trashed by people who make false assumptions, as one reviewer made. As anyone who has ever held a conversation with him would know, David is from South Africa, and his voice is authentic.
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By Dr Penner on December 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
A very compelling book. The plot was entirely unique from my perspective. A bit of history, romance, and family told by a series of characters over a span of twenty-some years. I thought the prose was particularly well written and even captivating at times. I've been recommending this book to friends and family and I guess some strangers on the internet too.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a wonderfully moving, bittersweet story, told with an authentic and honest voice. All the characters became absolutely real in the telling of the story. The author captures the complexity of emotions felt by South African emigres as well as anyone I've read. (He also captures the feel of Durban so exactly that I got a slight shock when I looked up from the book and saw my own back yard.) The main character's coming to terms with himself and his past brought tears to my eyes. I can't wait for Schmahmann's next book!
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