cover image Mara and Dann: An Adventure

Mara and Dann: An Adventure

Doris May Lessing. HarperCollins Publishers, $25 (407pp) ISBN 978-0-06-018294-6

Tenderly perceptive, Lessing's first far-future novel since her celebrated Canopus in Argos: Archives series of the late 1970s-mid '80s features two appealing orphans precariously reaching adulthood on Earth thousands of years from now. The Ice Age brought on by the ecological rapaciousness of today's society is receding, bringing lethal drought to the Southern land of ""Ifric,"" where a power struggle in her family has stranded seven-year-old Mara, who is fiercely caring for her even younger brother, Dann, in a remote village of neo-Neanderthals. Even under desperate conditions, Mara's thirst for knowledge outpaces the thirst for water that, over the years, drives her--sometimes alone and sometimes accompanied by Dann, who as he grows up insists on following his own dreams--toward the icy North, where remnants of Earth's old technological glories await. She and Dann endure numerous hardships and adventures along the way: Dann becomes addicted to ""the poppy"" and gambles Mara away on a roll of the dice; Mara works as a spy and is kidnapped to be a ""breeder."" Lessing spins a glowing hymn to human endurance around the sweet, shrewd, indefatigable Mara, one of her most engaging heroines. Though Lessing sanitizes Voltaire's savage satire of Western civilization here, her innocent-but-canny Mara proves as effective as Candide at surviving the worst and celebrating the best that human beings can do to one another. This novel is a resounding affirmation of humanity and what it holds dearest, from one of our most gifted storytellers. (Jan.)