cover image Many Stones

Many Stones

Carolyn Coman / Author, Handprint / Author Front Street $16.9

Coman (What Jamie Saw) adopts some conventions of the problem novel in this ambitious work about forgiveness. Berry's sister, Laura, has been murdered in South Africa, where she was volunteering at a school, and Berry, still smarting from her divorced father's perceived rejection of the family, is becoming angry and isolated. Early on she explains that she collects stones and stacks them on her chest so that she can feel their heft and ""know there's something there to be weighted."" Obliged to accompany her loathed father to South Africa for a memorial service, Berry, who narrates, is sure so much time with her father will be disastrous. But when they meet South Africans searching for ways to forgive after apartheid, Berry and her father realize they must begin their own reconciliation. As Berry confronts the devastation of a race of people subjected to degradation, imprisonment and torture, her own experiences come to seem almost trivial by comparison: ""I feel smaller and smaller.... It's like big, important history drapes over everything here in South Africa.... Nothing I know comes close to being a matter of life and death,"" she realizes. The implied parallel, however, is frequently jarring--exactly what has Berry suffered at the hands of her father, and how unforgivable is it? The ending, like the controlling device, is unusually neat for Coman. But there is gripping writing here, from the lightning-quick portraits of passing players to the descriptions of South Africa to the convincingly clipped conversations between daughter and father. And most important, the protagonist's emotional complexities seem uncannily true to life. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)