Crossing the River

Overview

From the acclaimed author of Cambridge comes an ambitious, formally inventive, and intensely moving evocation of the scattered offspring of Africa. It begins in a year of failing crops and desperate foolishness, which forces a father to sell his three children into slavery. Employing a brilliant range of voices and narrative techniques, Caryl Phillips folows these exiles across the river that separates continents and centuries.

Phillips's characters include a freed slave who ...

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Overview

From the acclaimed author of Cambridge comes an ambitious, formally inventive, and intensely moving evocation of the scattered offspring of Africa. It begins in a year of failing crops and desperate foolishness, which forces a father to sell his three children into slavery. Employing a brilliant range of voices and narrative techniques, Caryl Phillips folows these exiles across the river that separates continents and centuries.

Phillips's characters include a freed slave who journeys to Liberia as a missionary in the 1830s; a pioneer woman seeking refuge from the white man's justice on the Colorado frontier; and an African-American G.I. who falls in love with a white Englishwoman during World War II. Together these voices make up a "many-tongued chorus" of common memory—and one of the most stunning works of fiction ever to address the lives of black people severed from their homeland.

In a vastly ambitious and intensely moving novel, the author of Cambridge creates a many-tongued chorus of the African diaspora in the complex and riveting story of a desperate father who sells his three children into slavery.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A brilliantly coherent version of two and a half centuries of the African diaspora. . . . Richly counterpointed. . . . Its resonance continues to deepen." —The New York Times Book Review

"[Phillips] is a master ventriloquist, giving immediacy and voice to an impressive range of vivid characters about whom the reader cares deeply. . . . Wonderfully individual." —San Francisco Chronicle

"Like Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez, [Phillips] writes of times so heady and chaotic and of characters so compelling that time moves as if guided by the moon and dreams." —Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Uncommonly resourceful . . . an admirably complex and artfully wrought effort to renegotiate the staggering dimensions of the African diaspora. . . . A highly particularized web of damning circumstances, each crafted in its own distinctly styled prose . . . Crossing the River bears eloquently chastened testimony to the shattering of black lives." —Boston Globe

"Beautifully measured writing that powerfully evokes the far-reaching realities of the African diaspora. A masterwork." —Kirkus Reviews

"This ambitious novel amounts to a chorale. . . . Phillips's gifts are manifest and his technical prowess enlarges with each novel. . . . An impressively controlled performance." —Chicago Tribune

"With irony, understatement, and artful compression . . . Phillips distills the African diaspora to an essence, bitter and unforgettable." —Entertainment Weekly

"Memorable, convincing characters, broad vision, and evocative narrative result in a novel both resonant and deeply moving. . . . A stirring meditation on the hardship and perseverance of people torn from home." —Publishers Weekly

"Zigzagging across continents and generations, it is a fearless reimagining of the geography and meaning of the African diaspora. . . . Phillips brings an inventiveness and exacting lucidity to bear." —Village Voice

From the Publisher
"A brilliantly coherent version of two and a half centuries of the African diaspora. . . . Richly counterpointed. . . . Its resonance continues to deepen." —The New York Times Book Review

"[Phillips] is a master ventriloquist, giving immediacy and voice to an impressive range of vivid characters about whom the reader cares deeply. . . . Wonderfully individual." —San Francisco Chronicle

"Like Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez, [Phillips] writes of times so heady and chaotic and of characters so compelling that time moves as if guided by the moon and dreams." —Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Uncommonly resourceful . . . an admirably complex and artfully wrought effort to renegotiate the staggering dimensions of the African diaspora. . . . A highly particularized web of damning circumstances, each crafted in its own distinctly styled prose . . . Crossing the River bears eloquently chastened testimony to the shattering of black lives." —Boston Globe

"Beautifully measured writing that powerfully evokes the far-reaching realities of the African diaspora. A masterwork." —Kirkus Reviews

"This ambitious novel amounts to a chorale. . . . Phillips's gifts are manifest and his technical prowess enlarges with each novel. . . . An impressively controlled performance." —Chicago Tribune

"With irony, understatement, and artful compression . . . Phillips distills the African diaspora to an essence, bitter and unforgettable." —Entertainment Weekly

"Memorable, convincing characters, broad vision, and evocative narrative result in a novel both resonant and deeply moving. . . . A stirring meditation on the hardship and perseverance of people torn from home." —Publishers Weekly

"Zigzagging across continents and generations, it is a fearless reimagining of the geography and meaning of the African diaspora. . . . Phillips brings an inventiveness and exacting lucidity to bear." —Village Voice

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Phillips's depiction of the African diaspora, spanning four eras in African American history, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Jan.
Library Journal
Here is a brilliantly imagined novel of the African diaspora by the author of Cambridge ( LJ 2/1/92) and Higher Ground ( LJ 8/89), among others. It begins in 18th-century Africa as three children--Nash, Martha, and Travis--are sold into slavery. What follows are ``their'' life stories along with excerpts from the logbook of the slave ship's captain. Nash returns to Africa as a Christian missionary in the 1830s. Martha is a former slave whom we meet as she lays dying in Denver, having failed to reach California and find her only child, taken from her years before. Travis is reincarnated as an American GI stationed in England in 1943; his story is poignantly told by the British woman he marries. Bold in its design, beautiful in its language, compelling because of its characters, this grand novel of ideas--short-listed for the 1993 Booker Prize--belongs in every fiction collection.-- Brian Kenney, Brooklyn P.L.
Kirkus Reviews
Short-listed for the 1993 Booker Prize (see Roddy Doyle above), Phillips's latest novel (Cambridge, 1992; Final Passage, 1990, etc.), like a work of sacred music, combines a "many-tongued chorus" limning the pervasive legacy of slavery with an eloquent celebration of survival—of arrival "on the far bank of the river." An African father confesses that it was "a desperate foolishness...the crops failed...I sold my children and soon after, the chorus of common memory began to haunt me...for two hundred and fifty years I have listened to the many-tongued chorus and occasionally among the restless voices I have discovered those of my own children. My Nash. My Martha. My Travis." Their life stories—like those of all slavery's children—are "fractured, sinking hopeful roots into difficult soil." Relieved only by excerpts from the 18th-century diary of a slave-trader who, "approached by a quiet fellow, bought 2 strong man-boys and a proud girl," these stories form the book's core. Nash is transformed into an educated slave who, freed by his idealistic, fervently Christian master, Edward Williams, goes with his encouragement to establish a mission in the newly colonized Liberia. Life there is difficult; letters home to Edward are mysteriously unanswered; and, despairing, Nash moves into the bush and marries local women. A poignant last letter—in which he explains his decision to "live the life of the African"—is read by a grieving Edward. Meanwhile, Martha appears as a former slave whose beloved only child was sold, and who spends her life searching for her Eliza Mae, then dying—old and frail—in Denver; and Travis becomes a GI in wartime Britain, marrying alocal woman with her own unhappy past before he is killed in battle. Beautifully measured writing that powerfully evokes the far- reaching realities of the African diaspora. A master work.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679757948
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1995
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: First Vintage International Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 354,315
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Caryl Phillips was born in St. Kitts, West Indies. Brought up in England, he has written for television, radio, theater, and film. He is the author of three previous books of nonfiction, The European Tribe, The Atlantic Sound, and A New World Order, and six novels, The Final Passage, A State of Independence, Higher Ground, Cambridge, Crossing the River, and The Nature of Blood, and has edited two anthologies, Extravagant Strangers and The Right Set. His awards include the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Phillips lives in New York.
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