A BLACK ENGLISHMAN

Carolyn Slaughter, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $24 (335p) ISBN 978-0-374-11399-5

In her sweeping ninth novel, Slaughter loosely retells the story of her maternal grandmother, who moved to India after WWI with her military husband and ended up in an insane asylum at age 30. In 1920, Isabel Herbert, the fictional protagonist, escapes the war's ghosts by marrying and accompanying her distant husband, Neville, to India and is immediately seduced by the country's "voluptuous grandeur"—and by the titular black Englishman, Sam Singh, an Oxford-educated Indian doctor ("I learned a long time ago that an Indian is black"). Their affair, as Isabel writes in a letter to Sam, "will take us to the limits of our courage," and both suffer for it—in addition to a thousand small injustices, Isabel is attacked by her cuckolded husband and nearly sent to an asylum, and Sam is unfairly arrested and brutalized in connection with a terrorist attack. Slaughter tells a beautiful, haunting love story, set against a simmering backdrop of religious violence and political turmoil. Her novel is filled with trenchant observations about class, sex, imperialism and especially race, but she sometimes drives home her points too bluntly, as when Isabel muses: "Would I desire him if his skin were ebony.... What's the exact shade of rejection, anyway, and when does otherness become revulsion?" Despite the occasional slide into didacticism, this is a moving and powerful tale. Agent, Betsy Lerner at the Gernert Company. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 09/27/2004
Release date: 11/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 335 pages - 978-0-312-42428-2
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