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The True Sources of the Nile: A Novel Hardcover – April 16, 2002

3.9 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

About that title: experts disagree, citing no fewer than five possible sites. Anne, a human rights activist working in Burundi, finds the avowed source there disappointing, a slow trickle; whose version of the truth, she wonders, can be trusted? That's a vital question, because so many people in this ambitious and thoroughly absorbing first novel lie lie habitually, defensively, reflexively. Yet first novelist Stone's ability to create compelling characters is such that each time someone lies the reader is jolted. For Americans like Anne, innocence is a persistent condition. Anne believes her love for Jean-Pierre Bukimana, a member of the Burundi oligarchy, will enable the couple to transcend their cultural and racial differences; she believes no less ardently that given enough goodwill and infrastructure, peace can come to Burundi despite the epic Hutu-Tutsi conflict. As far as she is concerned, exigencies of the outside world will remain frozen indefinitely, for her family back in a Northern California apple orchard no less than for the ex-pats and Africans she works with. When she witnesses a postelection spasm of gruesome brutality, she is shaken to her core, yet she is unable to relinquish her belief, even as she joins her sisters in scoffing at their mother's need to read romance novels while enduring chemotherapy. Full of engaging parallels and paradoxes, the novel is an intricate study of family and tribal loyalty, and irrationality and its mirror image, rationalization. Agent, Candice Fuhrman. (Apr. 16)Forecast: The New York Post took notice of Stone's $100,000 advance, and encomiums that followed from the likes of Andrea Barrett, Charles Baxter and Margot Livesay suggest this novel's commercial appeal as well as its serious literary aspirations. While contemporary Burundi may not be high on every reader's interest list, the changed American consciousness after September 11 may provoke a heightened interest in war-torn regions around the world.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

When an American woman working for hunger relief in Burundi plunges into a love affair with a Paris-educated member of the Tutsi ruling class, you know issues of loyalty and betrayal can't be far behind.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 289 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (April 16, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385503016
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385503013
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,380,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on June 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
First of all, this was one gripping read--I'm usually too busy to devour books in one weekend, but this one had me. And although Sarah Stone knows how to write a compelling love story, she doesn't stop there--she uses the love affair to investigate the nature of war, and the flawed but universal human qualities responsible.
I've read newspaper accounts of genocide in other countries, and have never been able to wrap my mind around it. It's always seemed impossible to understand the motivation for holding on so tightly to longstanding traditions of hatred and brutality. And I have to admit that, like some of the American characters in this novel, I haven't really wanted to think about it. The True Sources of the Nile put faces on the abstract numbers, and helped me understand. I found the characters complex and fascinating--not just the American protagonist, Anne, and her California family, but also the Burundians, especially Anne's lover Jean-Pierre and his sister.
I was fascinated by Burundi, by its culture of secrecy, by its landscape, by Jean-Pierre's attempts to elucidate his country with stories and the occasional folktale. I was also impressed by the convincing portrayal of the world of Northern California--the author is able to convey its New Age quirks without making it just a caricature (for example, a past-life regression scene serves a surprisingly serious purpose). The way the Burundi and California plotlines shed light on each other and weave together thematically is nothing short of amazing. Two things become utterly clear: Burundi's culture is utterly alien to our own, and yet human nature is the same everywhere.
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Format: Hardcover
Wow, what a pageturner. This is a love story set against the backdrop of war that won't allow for any easy or romantic answers. I love it when a book makes you stay up late till your eyes hurt. The True Sources of the Nile immediately sucked me in. The characters have such depth, such complexities to them. You think you know a character and then you get a little surprise, half-way through the book, or at the very end. Sarah Stone completely captures the nuances of family relationships, with old loyalties and grudges. I highly highly recommend this book!
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Format: Hardcover
What I loved best about Sarah Stone's "The True Sources of the Nile" was that it deftly handled a wide range of complex emotions and questions, from "why do we wage war?" to "why do we love those we love?" "Why do we continue to love those we'd rather not love?"
This novel, however, ultimately deals with disallusionment, not--as one Amazon reviewer put it--"romance." Though romance is the arena in which the theme of disallusionment most frequently performs, the novel is not at heart a romance: the protagonist's ideals are tested and revised, whereas in true romances such ideals are either abetted or left unexamined.
I found it both wonderful and painful to watch Anna--the relatively young, optimistic protagonist--grapple with the macrocosmic forces of war, clan loyalty and death in Burundi, even as she struggles with these same forces on microcosmic levels with her family in California.
Unlike most white authors who attempt to write their versions of "my Peace Corps years in Africa," Stone presents a un-exoticized Burundi whose history is magnificent, terrible and fractured. Stone shows how the cruelest effect of Beligan and German colonization of what was once Ruanda-Urundi was it's transformation of victims into victimizers--a thread which sadly runs through the whole of human history. Stone's acknowledgement of this as a universal dilemma raises the novel above scores of acerbically written, tsk-tsk novels in which African countries are mere backdrops for Euro-Western proselytizing.
In the "Acknowledgments" section of the novel, Stone concludes, "...it is a human urge to cut a gravestone, out of whatever materials we have." Stone suggests, by way of her incredibly written novel in which both hope and love are tested by the Hutu-Tutsi conflict, that this material is more often than not the human heart.
Buy the book and be amazed.
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Format: Hardcover
Blurbs from Andrea Barrett and Charles Baxter brought me to this book, which I found underdeveloped and unaffecting. This is not a good sign when the key event is the heart-rending massacre of one ethnic group by another in Burundi. "The True Sources of the Nile" has a good premise: Anne, an aid worker, is completely in love with Tutsi official Jean-Pierre. Their passionate affair is interrupted when Anne is called back to the U.S., where her mother has been diagnosed with cancer. After a miserable time with her touchy family, Anne returns to Burundi and an outbreak of ethnic violence that leaves thousands dead, including many members of Jean-Pierre's family. She also hears some frightening rumors about his past, which make her question her future with this man she deeply loves.
Anne never develops into much more than someone who is very much in love. She does not seem to be someone well enough rooted to the ground to command the position of protagonist. Jean-Pierre is passionate and that's about it. You begin be get interested in Anne's friendship with his sister and that plug is pulled. The Burundi scenes do not seem very real and the Burundian characters are stuck to the page.
On the other hand, many of the Sonoma County scenes, especially the ones with Anne's mother, leap off the page and, boy, do you understand why Anne prefers the Third World. But then again, that lack of connection. Her family owns apple orchards, but they might as well own a hardware store for all the shading that adds to the story. The orchards seem to exist merely for Anne to parrot to a sister that in Burundi apples cost some appalling price per pound.
"The True Sources of the Nile" earned some early buzz and a big advance. Good for author Sarah Stone!
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