cover image DISCRETION


Elizabeth Nunez, . . Ballantine, $23.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-345-44731-9

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DISCRETIONElizabeth Nunez. Ballantine, $23.95 (288p) ISBN 0-345-44731-X

Right from the start of this haunting novel, Nunez adopts the mesmerizing, myth-spinning voice of an oral storyteller, assuming the identity of an African-born male. When Oufoula Sindede becomes his unnamed country's foreign ambassador to the U.S., he is a happy husband and father, married to the daughter of his country's president. Yet he's aware of an unfulfilled need, and it comes as no surprise when he falls in love with Marguerite, an artist in New York. Their subsequent relationship spans a quarter of a century, most of it spent apart after Marguerite balks upon learning Oufoula already has a wife. By the time their final meetings occur, tragedy has befallen both. Always torn between his responsibilities to Africa, family and passion, what will Oufoula now choose to do? In unaffected prose, Nunez (whose Bruised Hibiscus won an American Book Award) explores self-deception, envy, Christian monogamy vs. African polygamy and the very real dilemma of loving two people at once. Her nonjudgmental exploration of the simple/complex nature of marriage, love and fidelity enriches her portrayal of Oufoula, allowing the reader to feel sympathy for a decent man who cannot deny his passion. To some extent, the code of his profession is to blame: Oufoula is told, early on, "to be a successful diplomat you will have to learn how to lie." At the end, a broken Oufoula contemplates the lessons of his life and wonders what really constitutes the better part of valor, behaving discreetly or choosing the truth? This rich, multilayered narrative is powerful in its sweep and moving in its insight. Agent, Ivy Fisher Stone. 5-city author tour. (Mar.)

Forecast:Though aimed at African-American audiences (Ballantine will advertise in African-American venues online and in print), this novel has the potential to reach all readers appreciative of fine prose and an emotionally resonant story.