Tree of Life

Mayse Conde, Author, Maryse Conde, Author, Victoria Reiter, Translator Ballantine Books $18 (371p) ISBN 978-0-345-36074-8
In her masterful new novel, the Guadeloupeansp ok author of Segu and Children of Segu sifts through the dreams and realities of an archetypal family to reveal the destiny of a people. Albert Louis, great-grandfather of the story's narrator, escapes the abject poverty of the island nation of Guadeloupe to work on the Panama Canal. Despite racism and oppression, he amasses a fortune as an undertaker--but his obsession with money earns him the scorn of his neighbors. His sons receive a legacy of privilege and pain: one exiles himself to France, ostensibly to study, with catastrophic results; another embraces politics; a third renounces his wealth and proclaims himself a man of the people. In the next generation, the beautiful and intelligent Thecla divides her passions between affairs and politics, involving herself in every place she even briefly calls home, be it the Paris, New York, Jamaica or Haiti of the '60s and '70s. But she is somehow unable to love her daughter Coco, the narrator, who looks for affection in family photo albums and anecdotes. As she travels the globe with Thecla, Coco courageously uncovers the world of her forebears, learning to treasure their history as well as that of Guadeloupeans in general. Conde's vast skills as a storyteller rest in her intensely vivid characterizations, and her gifts for nuance, humor and analysis command the reader's attention and respect. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/1992
Release date: 09/01/1992
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