cover image Cannibal


Terese Svoboda. New York University Press, $22 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-8147-8012-1

Winner of the publisher's 1994 Elmer Holmes Bobst Award for emerging writers, this fragmentary, darkly lyrical first novel conjures an Africa charged with menace. Svoboda, a poet and filmmaker who lived for a year in the Sudan, thrusts her nameless young American heroine into a nameless country, where she is filming a documentary with her manipulative, sexually demanding boyfriend, whom she suspects of being a CIA agent. Her other worries include her fear that she is pregnant and her struggle to earn the natives' respect. Feeling like an outsider, ``only a woman and just white,'' she goes by the epithet ``Good for Nothing,'' but by the story's end the natives rechristen her ``Daughter of the Nile.'' Horrific images of animal slaughter and dangers in the bush mingle with a grim encounter with ``blue people,'' victims of AIDS who roam the savannah or wait to die in a deserted British outpost. While Svoboda's stark imagery paints a visceral, powerful portrait of a milieu beset by mistrust and pain, the narrator's voice sometimes goes flat, and some readers may find her minutely self-analytical focus enervating. (Jan.)