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Renee Abigail Penelope Harold Meg

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from Renée's Reviews



The Darling

by Russell Banks
Bloomsbury UK paperback

I am a long time fan of Russell Banks beginning with Continental Drift. He is a master of his language, he gives constant pleasure with his descriptions, his prose is often startling. This book is a serious political history of a woman who has a radical past in the U.S., gets to be a member of the weathermen, is on the FBI list of dangerous people for, in her case, marginal acts. She is modeled on people I knew, children of liberal but not radical professionals in the 60¹s like Benjamin Spock, some lawyers whose children went to school with my children, of course the brothers Berrigan who supported the underground resistance. Hannah Musgrave, the narrator, is the only real person in the book as she sifts through her past, trying to make sense of her life while working on her own organic farm in the Adirondacks. She went to Africa after being put on the government¹s most wanted list. There she marries a minor official in the government of Liberia and raises her three sons in a gated community, only half awake herself. The politics are real, Charles Taylor, her friend and an enemy of the government in Liberia at the time, is now on trial for war crimes. Hannah lives in the maze of her own life, but she remains a spectator of it. Hannah spent her life stripping identities like itchy wool sweaters that have suddenly become too heavy. "It's why I was able to leave them with such ease and so little regret," she says of her kids. "Simply, they weren't as real to me as I was to myself." She is looking for the thread to take her through her own story, to come to an understanding of the value of a life she had chosen in rebellion both against her upbringing and against her government. There is a sub plot: Hannah looks for meaning in the bourgeois family existence in Monrovia and finds it by rescuing chimpanzees from being used by medical researchers to create medicines for capitalist enterprises. How shall I give you an evaluation most succinctly? I began by not liking the book because Hannah is never fully realized and there are no other characters that one can really get to know. However, as I continued the story, I grew to love it, to admire the technique, to be caught up in the plot and to rummage through my own life, trying to find meaning.

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