cover image Masai Dreaming

Masai Dreaming

Justin Cartwright. Random House (NY), $23 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43860-1

In a striking fusion of cultural journeys, Booker Prize finalist Cartwright (Look At It This Way) jump-cuts between past and present, Africa and Europe, the gentle Masai and a French-Jewish family who met a horrifying fate in the Nazi death camps. In the late 1930s,Claudia Cohn-Casson had been a dedicated anthropologist gathering data on Masai customs when an epic lion hunt she staged for filming ended in tragedy. Two Masai warriors lay slain; cameramen gloated over the carnage, snapping ``fantastic'' footage. Months later, this colonial cruelty found a parallel in Nazi barbarism as Claudia was seized in Paris and deported to Auschwitz with her brother and eminent father, a ``collabo'' doctor who thought himself safe. Narrating these events as well as the present-day action is screenwriter Tim Curtiz, touring the heart of Africa to demystify Claudia's life and death in a film intended to re-create many truths (``we are all Jews, all Nazis, all humans capable of anything. The movie must speak to everybody... ''). But Curtiz works for a rich, sybaritic and eccentric producer who considers casting his transvestite mistress as Claudia. Or will he cast Julia Roberts, with Mel Gibson as Claudia's other, Anglo lover? Yesterday and today flow seamlessly into one another as the novel replays events in an ongoing now, like a movie that unreels, dreamlike, before the spellbound spectator. (June)