Celebration

Mary Lee Settle, Author
Mary Lee Settle, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $17.95 (355p) ISBN 978-0-374-12005-4
Reviewed on: 09/29/1986
Release date: 10/01/1986
The power and literary significance of Settle's work have not been appreciated by a wide enough audience. One hopes that this new, luminous novel by the author of the Beulah Quintet will be her breakthrough book. This is a story of people who are expatriates from their own lands, and who are seeking to find a safe harbora place, or a communion with another personthey can call home. Each of them is also in isolation from a state of grace, having crossed their own equivalents of the River Styx: the loss of loved ones, a watershed encounter with illness, a confrontation with evil, the bitterness of exile. Coming originally from many parts of the world, their lives intersect in London in the late 1960s, a time when mankind is landing on the moon but still indulging in brutalities on this planet. Anthropologist Teresa Cerutti, daughter of a U.S. diplomat and young widow of an archeologist who died tragically while they were living in a Yezidi village in Turkey, comes to London to recover from cancer surgery. She meets Ewen McLeod, a geologist recuperating from a virulent form of malaria and a sickness of soul caused by his experiences in Africa. A six-foot-tall, black Dinka Jesuit; a homosexual English lord and another Londoner obsessed with his garden and the martyred Charles I; a beautiful Yezidi princess; a Muslim whose family died in a massacre in India; and an obtuse American CIA agent are among the people who gather around Teresa and Ewen for their wedding and for the funeralsimultaneously a sacrifice, a martyrdom and a sacramentof one of them. Settle paints a brilliant panorama of locales: a mountain village in Kurdistan, the exotic sectors of Hong Kong, the Great African Rift, the Sudan, Scotland. She also evokes the insular, post-McCarthy hysteria of a small U.S town and the social volatility of London two decades ago. Reading Settle is somewhat like gazing through limpid waters to the bottom of a pond; a pond in which the water that seems translucently clear is really moving in ripples away from the center. Settle's prose is similarly lucid, the ripples of meaning all the while lapping outward to create moments of insight. This moving novel is aptly titled: it is a celebration. (October 22)
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