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on October 15, 2015
Doris Lessing writes so well that her prose is like music, and she has such a natural and easy grasp of the violent emotions that control and betray our better selves. "Martha Quest" is her semi-biographical depiction of a young and sensitive woman coming of age in a racist patriarchy -- just as her political conscious is about to be awaken she succumbs to the social pressures swirling around her and the personal anxieties that haunt from within her.

Compared with "The Grass is Singing," "Martha Quest" is a lesser work, but it is still worth a read if only for its rhapsodical prose.
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on April 9, 2014
I grew up in a colonial African country and thought Doris Lessing captured the atmosphere of those times very well. I first read Martha Quest in the 1980s and remembered it as good. Now that I have read it again 30 years later I realise it is far better than good. Martha is a very real heroine - a young girl from a conservative racist background who inclines instinctively to a more liberal view yet lacks the knowledge and the sophistication to articulate this. Her youthful anger and frustration and rebellion against her roots is described beautifully as is the boorish juvenile racism of the young men at the sports club. My revisiting of this book taught me that while many of our faculties decline with age our ability to appreciate and understand literature just grows and grows.
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VINE VOICEon May 30, 2009
The second book in Lessing's famous Children of Violence series is, simply, deeper and better than its predecessor. Now Martha Quest is married and goes through the confusion of searching for herself in her husband and (unlikely) child. She leaves behind her life of sundowners and irresponsibility to make a happy home and remain a good and dutiful citizen as WWII is becoming an ever-greater presence in Southern Africa. However, she gradually has feelings of unfulfillment, and must make major decisions in order to keep her autonomy and sanity. We leave her as she starts a new life for herself, and begins to get more involved with the Communist Party.

Lessing gives a great performance here. The book is slow-moving, but filled with startling moments of comprehension and understanding. She has been called a master of the "documentary novel," an odd phrase which seems just right with her, and she presents her characters and their problems in a direct and uncompromising way. Her perception and use of language, however, really separates her; you are able to put yourself in the middle of this world with its seemingly ordinary characters, and know them as you know anyone in real life. The CoV series is a must-read for any serious lit. fan, and it picks up steam here.
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VINE VOICEon May 28, 2009
Martha Quest is the first novel in Doris Lessing's massive Children of Violence series, which cumulatively consists of five books and 2,100+ pages. Because of the breadth of the series as a whole, the first book here acts as a general introduction, and can be frustrating to read simply because it isn't a complete story in and of itself. We get to know Ms Quest, where she comes from and what she wants out of life, but little more. The heavily autobiographical protagonist leaves her childhood farm, moves into a busier city, lolls away at a job, goes to nighttime party after party, dates a few different men, gets caught up what an assorted group of friends, becomes more perceptive at the different social classes around her, and marries a somewhat mysterious man at the end. This is all in pretty general brushstrokes, and a reader may not find much interesting here, and Quest not a particularly appealing character. Trust me, stick with it and you will find Ms Quest to be as interesting and fully-formed as anyone you have ever met. This is a lukewarm gateway to an incredibly impressive series of novels.
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on June 30, 2002
We meet Martha Quest as a resentful 15 year old girl, growing up on a farm in Africa. As noted adequately here, this is the first book in her Children of Violence series-- held by many to be Lessings most important body of work (with the exception of _The Golden Notebook_).
I'm one of these Lessing fans from back in the day when _The Golden Notebook_ changed my life, and I haven't read much of her other work. I was impressed by Martha Quest-- it falls in the category of our classic coming-of-age novels, and as such stands well on its own as a novel. Lessing's Martha is at times so frustrating you want to shake her, but I think that's typical for the age of the character portrayed. Martha is all sharp edges-- she can't seem to fit with her parents, the men around her, the people with whom she tries to interact. With the blindness of her age, she's able to acutely feel how hard she has it, without really feeling the struggle of others around her who may have an even more difficult time. By turns infuriating and attractive, it can be painful to read Quest's story precisely because so it's so human as to be disturbingly familiar.
A should-read book.
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on November 30, 2006
Doris Lessing remains one of my favorite writers. I first fell in love with her work when I read The Golden Notebook in college, as you do. I'm still slowly working my way through her complete novels.

I really enjoyed Martha Quest, the first book in the Children of Violence. But I was deeply moved by A Proper Marriage. Take the bright young things of a Fitzgerald novel, give them sweat, hangovers and physicality and put them in a troubled country on the eve of a World War. If you can imagine that, then you have a little bit of an idea about A Proper Marriage.

There's something so smart and complicated about the way that Lessing develops Martha in this book. Her disaffection with the excesses of the left lead her into a middle class life, even as her sympathies lie elsewhere. Relationships, war, child-bearing and the colour bar are all woven together into a book that somehow manages to bear the weight of the themes while still givng the reader a very human tale.

Lessing is a simply amazing writer. She works with complex ideas and communicates them without simplifying. Her writing is always lovely and human. A Proper Marriage is one of the best examples of her work. I think that it adds richness if you begin with Martha Quest, but the book can stand on its own right.

Recommended both for fans of Lessing's work and people new to her work.
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on February 2, 2016
One of Doris Lessing's easier books. It's a coming of age story somewhat reflecting her own youth. I thought I he ending kind of sudden but gave it 5 stars for her excellent writing quality.
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on April 17, 2014
This saga of young woman in South Africa, her disastrous marriage and general malaise and floundering about with equally discontent women has some good writing, but not enough to hold one's total concentration. Not on my highly recommended list.
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on June 30, 2013
Having never read Lessing until this book, I was immediately in recognition of her genius. As with Faulkner, Wharton and Wolff, her ability to freeze a moment in time and delve into the complexities and perceptions that comprise a life is remarkable, enlightening and far more intriguing than a whodunit. This, for me, will be the summer of Doris Lessing.
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on January 24, 2014
Anyone who wants to see fully developed and moulded characters, and who can visualize society at the time in which the book is written, would love any of Doris Lessings' books. She slowly develops characters over a period of time and does so with such skill that it reveals far more than a photo would.
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