This superbly achieved novel issues from the pairing of overt literary devices with a subtle narrative strategy. Sometime in the 19th century, 30-year-old Emily Cartwright, about to be married off to a widower 20 years her senior, is sent from England to inspect her father's sugar plantation in the West Indies. The journal she keeps forms a central part of this novel, and it records Emily's observations of colonial and slave societies, her perceptions of ``the progeny of Afric'ssic despised inhabitants,'' the mysteries of the plantation and her seduction by the plantation manager. Syntax and vocabulary are startlingly convincing, while Emily herself proves to be a complicated character. Overlaying this segment is the testament of a slave, born Olumide, renamed Thomas, then David and, finally, Cambridge, each new name corresponding to a radical shift in fortune. Cambridge's story, riveting in itself, echoes and responds to the tale in Emily's journal, eventually recasting it altogether. Brief if somewhat less successful conventional narratives serve as frames, but the strength of Phillips's ( The Final Passage ) work emanates from the unity of its parts. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/03/1992 Release date: 02/01/1992 Genre: Fiction
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