The Darling

The Darling

4.3 3
by Russell Banks

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“After many years of believing that I never dream of anything, I dreamed of Africa.”

Over a decade after leaving her three sons behind in Liberia, Hannah Musgrave realizes she has to leave her farm in the Adirondacks and find out what has happened to them and the chimpanzees for whom she created a sanctuary. The Darling is the story


“After many years of believing that I never dream of anything, I dreamed of Africa.”

Over a decade after leaving her three sons behind in Liberia, Hannah Musgrave realizes she has to leave her farm in the Adirondacks and find out what has happened to them and the chimpanzees for whom she created a sanctuary. The Darling is the story of her return to the wreckage of west Africa and the story of her past, from her middle-class American upbringing to her years in the Weather Underground. It is also one of the most powerful novels of the decade, an unforgettable tale of growth and loss, and an unstinting exploration of some of the most troubling issues of our time: terrorism, race, and the contact between the first world and the third.

Hannah Musgrave, the narrator of The Darling, tells us she first travelled to Africa in the mid-1970s, to escape prosecution for her radical political activities with the Weathermen. Arriving in Liberia to work in a medical research lab, Hannah – also known by her alias, Dawn Carrington – meets Woodrow Sundiata, an official in the ministry of public health, and they fall immediately in love. Courting with Woodrow, an intelligent, ambitious man, means encountering his other life in his ancestral village of Fuama – a life that could scarcely be more different from Hannah’s affluent childhood as the daughter of a bestselling pediatrician. Hannah and Woodrow start a family, but she feels herself to be somehow estranged from her life in Liberia and curiously detached from her husband and three sons. Still in search of herself as her children grow older, Hannah develops a closer and closer bond with the chimpanzees at the lab, whom she calls “dreamers.”

During the early 1980s, Liberian society grows more unstable, until an illiterate soldier named Samuel Doe brutally overthrows and assassinates the president. Hannah’s courageous intervention with Doe leads to Woodrow’s release from detention, but at a price: she must return to the US, leaving her family behind. Hannah feels that her dreamers will feel her absence more deeply than her family will.

In the US Hannah briefly reconnects with her parents after years of estrangement before returning to her friends from her underground years. One of them, Zack Procter, is involved with a plan to spring Charles Taylor – an attractive Liberian politician – from jail, and Hannah involves herself with the plot, genuinely believing that Taylor will bring social democracy to west Africa.

Hannah gets permission to return to her family in the mid-1980s, and decides that this time things will be different: she will take charge of her home life, ousting Woodrow’s young cousin Jeanette, and she will build a sanctuary for her chimpanzees. But Charles Taylor has also returned, and his slow and bloody rebellion against Doe leads, eventually, to a night of horrific violence in which Woodrow is murdered and Hannah’s teenaged children disappear. Amidst chaos and almost unbelievable bloodshed, Hannah has time only to move her dreamers to Boniface Island before facing the heartrending decision to escape Liberia, leaving her children behind. More than ten years will pass before she can return to discover their fate, and understand her own.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Mary Gordon
The Darling is not a perfect book -- its very expansiveness of vision and range make that almost impossible -- but it is admirable, compelling, always surprising and never cliched. At the end of his chronicle, Banks takes a daring last step of reminding us that, despite what she has witnessed, Hannah is one of the privileged of the earth, ''an American darling,'' whose story, after the planes went into the towers, ''could have no significance in the larger world.'' These last mordant notes provide a brilliantly sour decrescendo to Russell Banks's symphony of history, politics and impossible, failed dreams.
— The New York Times
Wil Haygood
For years now, Russell Banks has explored race, political dramas, migrations. As our best novelists must do, he creates multidimensional characters, stories that make you think how life really must be, or once happened to be. It is not for Banks -- whose last novel, Cloudsplitter, told of John Brown's messianic odyssey during America's era of slavery -- to offer the thin novella that so often passes these days for literature. His are big novels, with daring, sweep and depth. In The Darling, he is working at full strength, and readers are in his debt.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Six years after the publication of his much-lauded novel Cloudsplitter, Banks returns with a portrayal of personal and political turmoil in West Africa and the U.S. The darling of the title is narrator Hannah Musgrave, a privileged child of the turbulent 1960s and '70s, who now, at 59, reflects on her life. After participating in freewheeling sexual experimentation and radical politics, Hannah is wanted by the FBI for her involvement in the Weather Underground. Under an assumed name, she flees the U.S. for Africa, traveling first to Ghana, then Liberia, where in 1976 she meets and marries Woodrow Sundiata, a government official. Taking on another identity that of foreign wife, and eventually mother to three sons Hannah finds herself increasingly involved with the highest members of Liberia's government as Woodrow's political star rises. She also finds purpose in establishing a sanctuary for endangered chimpanzees. When Liberia explodes into civil war, Hannah's life and the lives of her family are in danger. Readers will be stunned by the gut-wrenching (and often foolish) decisions she makes and by the horrifying outcome of her association with key figures such as Liberian president Samuel Doe and insurgent Charles Taylor. An articulate and keenly observant narrator, Hannah explains Liberia's history and U.S. connections as smoothly as she reflects on tribal practices, the fate of chimpanzees and her own misguidedness. Better yet, for the purposes of good storytelling, she is conflicted and selfish, and often na ve despite her wide experience. She emerges as a fascinating figure, striking universal chords in her search for identity and home, though her life may ultimately be a study in futility. A rich and complex look at the searing connections between the personal and the political, this is one of Banks's most powerful novels yet. Agent, Ellen Levine. (Oct. 7) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Hannah Musgrave, the privileged daughter of a prominent left-wing pediatrician, throws herself into the antiwar movement of the 1960s, joins the radical Weather Underground, and ends up on the FBI's most-wanted list. She flees to Liberia, impulsively marries a government minister, and then switches allegiance to notorious warlord Charles Taylor. This is an intriguing development, since Taylor is a real person frequently in the news for his involvement with "conflict diamonds." Unfortunately, he makes only a cameo appearance here. Hannah herself is utterly unconvincing, both as a revolutionary and as a woman, and it is impossible to feel much sympathy for her. While her motives are impeccable, her actions inevitably backfire and result in appalling carnage. Banks explored the themes of radical idealism and racial struggle with much greater success in Cloudsplitter, his take on abolitionist John Brown. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/04.] Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Pulitzer-nominated author of Cloudsplitter (1998), among others, looks unsparingly at the bitter life of a 1960s revolutionary. Banks's portrait of John Brown showed readers an uncompromised understanding of salvation-mindedness that he applies with surgical skill here, in the story of Hannah Musgrave, only child of a Benjamin Spock-like leftist pediatrician and his supportive but self-effacing wife. Educated at Rosemary Hall and Brandeis, Hannah, a gifted mathematician and mechanic, chucked med school at the last minute to join the Weather Underground, determined to overturn the government. In the thick of the dramatic unfoldings of the late '60s, Hannah skipped bail in Chicago to go deeper underground, lived with a succession of revolutionary cells and lovers of both sexes, and ultimately fled to Africa with a trust-funded fellow Weatherman from Cincinnati. Striking out on her own, Hannah crosses from Ghana into Liberia, the strange semi-colony established by American abolitionists before the Civil War, where she finds that the revolutionary past she's tried to hide is an open secret-and that her whiteness is both protective and problematic in the odd society founded by freed slaves. Her medical training leads to a job collecting data from chimpanzees that have been taken from the wild for infection with hepatitis for research, and Hannah's attachment to the sad primates is the first true affection she's felt for anyone in her life-stronger even than the bond for the three boys she will bear after a cynical marriage to American-educated Woodrow Sundiata, a minor Liberian government official from a favored tribe. Neither her tribal connection nor her education is enough to save thefamily from the disasters that follow the fall of the corrupt president-but Hannah's connections are enough to bring her yet another and undeservedly good life back in the States. Banks never makes it easy, but this is worth reading as a warning to anyone not chary of the children of privilege. Author tour. Agent: Ellen Levine/Trident Media Group
Village Voice
“Reverberating with ideas and startling prose.”
Hartford Courant
“Banks creates a heroine every bit as complex and flawed as someone out of Jane Austen.”
“Once again, he has produced a novel that is searing, demanding and unforgettable.”
St. Petersburg Times
“Banks has created a heroine every bit as complex and flawed as something out of Jane Austen.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A powerful new novel.”
Virginian Pilot
“Extraordinary...Banks is the rare epic novelist.”
O magazine
“Banks’s novel is a vivid account of a time of terror, exposing the secrets of the soul.”
Washington Post Book World
“In The Darling, he is working at full strength, and his readers are in his debt.”
Associated Press
“Banks has written a novel that is utterly accessible, forcefully wrought and undeniably passionate.”
Orlando Sentinel
“Banks’ mastery of his material makes this a compelling and important book.”
Boston Globe
“Hannah’s story shows why Banks ranks among our boldest artists.”
Associated Press Staff
“Banks has written a novel that is utterly accessible, forcefully wrought and undeniably passionate.”
O Magazine
"Banks’s novel is a vivid account of a time of terror, exposing the secrets of the soul."
From the Publisher
“Daring in concept and fearless in its analysis, The Darling could be Banks’s strongest book yet.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“[Hannah’s] story, and the story of her adopted country, is a fruitless quest for identity. But Banks has made it a marvelous experience.”
The Vancouver Sun

“The robust voice of Hannah Musgrave stands out a mile, orbiting the planet, earnestly tracking the linkages of political and sexual power. She is trying to show us how social activism can end up sabotaging the very structures one was attempting to invigorate, the mechanics of political discourse and social welfare. There are plenty of surprises.”
The Globe and Mail

“Russell Banks, one of America’s most elegant literary voices, has delivered an extraordinary book. . . . If for no other reason, The Darling is worth reading for Banks’s method.”
The Vancouver Sun

“Banks brilliantly captures West Africa–the sights, smells and politics. . . . [A] spellbinding book.”

“Russell Banks . . . is the master depicter of family relations. [The Darling is] 390 pages of rich and compelling storytelling to enjoy.”
The Calgary Herald

“His unsentimental compassion, the effortlessness of his prose, and the familiarity of his terrain . . . make . . . [Banks] arguably the most widely read of American writers today.”
National Post

“A taut and riveting story of politics, race and class in post-colonial Africa. . . . Banks offers us an ambitious and charged novel with admirable reach that makes powerful and sophisticated comment not only on America’s legacy in post-colonial Africa, but on white liberalism and the politics of race in America itself.”
—Camilla Gibb, National Post

“Russell Banks’s twentieth-century Liberia is as hellish a place as Joseph Conrad’s nineteenth-century Congo. The only creatures that behave with humanity are the apes. A dark and disturbing book."
—J. M. Coetzee

Praise for Russell Banks:
“Russell Banks has now become. . .the most important living white male American on the official literary map, a writer we, as readers and writers, can actually learn from, whose books help and urge us to change.”
The Village Voice

“We [are] blessed by Banks’s prodigious talent and insight.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Darling

Chapter One

After many years of believing that I never dream of anything, I dreamed of Africa. It happened on a late-August night here at the farm in Keene Valley, about as far from Africa as I have been able to situate myself. I couldn't recall the dream's story, although I knew that it was in Africa, the country of Liberia, and my home in Monrovia, and that somehow the chimps had played a role, for there were round, brown, masklike faces still afloat in my mind when I awoke, safe in my bed in this old house in the middle of the Adirondack Mountains, and found myself overflowing with the knowledge that I would soon return there.

It wasn't a conscious decision to return. More a presentiment is all it was, a foreboding perhaps, advancing from the blackest part of my mind at the same rate as the images of Liberia drifted there and broke and dissolved in those dark waters where I've stored most of my memories of Africa. Memories of Africa and of the terrible years before. When you have kept as many secrets as I have for as long as I have, you end up keeping them from yourself as well. So, yes, into my cache of forgotten memories of Liberia and the years that led me there -- that's where the dream went. As if it were someone else's secret and were meant to be kept from me, especially.

And in its place was this knowledge that I would soon be going back -- foreknowledge, really, because I didn't make the decision until later that day, when Anthea and I had finished killing the chickens and were wrapping them in paper and plastic bags for delivery and pickup.

It was at the end of summer, the beginning of an early autumn, and though barely a year ago, it feels like a decade, so much was altered in that year. The decade here: now, that seems like a few days and nights is all, because nothing except the same thing has happened here day after day, season after season, year after year.No new or old returning lovers, no marriages or divorces, no births or deaths, at least among the humans. Just the farm and the world that nourishes and sustains it. Timeless, it has seemed.

The farm is a commercial operation, inasmuch as I sell most of what I grow, but in truth it's more like an old-fashioned family farm, and to run it I've had to give over my personal clock. I've had to abandon all my urban ways of measuring time and replace them with the farm's clock, which is marked off by the needs and demands of livestock and the crops, by the requirements of soil and the surge and flux of weather. It's no wonder that farmers in the old days were obsessed with the motions of the planets and the waxing and waning of the moon, as if their farms were the bodies of women. I sometimes think it's because I am a woman -- or maybe it's merely because I lived all those years in Liberia, adapted to African time -- that I was able to adapt so easily to the pace and patterns and rhythmic repetitions of nature's clock and calendar.

It was as usual, then, on that August morning, with the darkness just beginning to pull back from the broad river valley to the forests and the mountains looming behind the house, that I woke at five-thirty and came downstairs wearing my flannel nightgown and slippers against the pre-dawn chill, with the dogs clattering behind me, checked the temperature by the moon-faced thermometer outside the kitchen window (still no frost,which was good, because we'd neglected to cover the tomatoes), and put the dogs out. I made coffee for Anthea, who comes in at six and says she can't do a thing until after her second cup, and the other girls, who come in at seven. I lingered for a few moments in the kitchen while the coffee brewed, enjoying the dark smell of it. I never drink coffee, having been raised on tea, a habit I took from my father as soon as he'd let me, but I do love the smell of it when it's brewing and buy organic Colombian beans from a mail-order catalogue and grind them freshly for each pot, just for the aroma.

For a few moments, as I always do, I stood by the window and watched the dogs.They are Border collies, father and daughter, Baylor and Winnie, and when they have done their business, the first thing they do every morning is patrol the property, reclaiming their territory and making sure that during the night nothing untoward has happened. Usually I watch them work and think of them as working for me. But this morning they looked weirdly different to me, as if during the night one of us, they or I, had changed allegiances. They looked like ghost dogs,moving swiftly across the side yard in the gray pre-dawn light, disappearing into shadows cast by the house and oak trees, darting low to the ground into the garage, then reappearing and moving on.Today they worked for no one but themselves; that's how I saw them.Their gait was halfway between a trot and a run -- fast, effortless, smooth, and silent, their ears cocked forward, plumed tails straight back -- and they seemed more like small wolves than carefully trained and utterly domesticated herding animals.

For a moment they scared me. I saw the primeval wildness in them, their radical independence and selfishness, the ferocity of their strictly canine needs. Perhaps it was the thin, silvery half-light and that I viewed them mostly in silhouette as they zigged and zagged across the yard, and when they'd checked the garage, an open shed, actually, where I park the pickup truck and my Honda ...

The Darling. Copyright © by Russell Banks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

“The way I feel about every book is this: you don’t finish it, you abandon it. All of my books have in some sense failed, otherwise I wouldn’t write another one. If I wrote the perfect book, I wouldn’t have to write again, and I wouldn’t want to. That’s not true for everyone, but it’s true for me. I could walk away then. But so far I haven’t managed to do it.” –Russell Banks

Russell Banks’ books include Searching for Survivors, Family Life, Hamilton Stark, The New World, Book of Jamaica, Trailerpark, The Relation of My Imprisonment, Continental Drift, Success Stories, Affliction, The Sweet Hereafter, Rule of the Bone, Cloudsplitter, and The Angel On The Roof, a collection of short stories. He has also contributed poems, stories and essays to Vanity Fair, The New York Times Book Review, Esquire, Harper’s, and many other publications.

Mr. Banks was raised in New Hampshire and eastern Massachusetts and is the eldest of four children. He grew up in a working-class environment – a major influence on his writing – and was the first member of his family to go to college. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he worked as a plumber, shoe salesman and window cleaner. More recently he has taught in the writing programs at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence College, the University of Alabama, New England College, New York University and Princeton University.

Acclaimed as “the most important living white American male on the official literary map” by The Village Voice, Banks has been praised for his empathy, his compassion for his characters, and his attempts to grapple with the moral ambiguities of contemporary life. He has also been repeatedly recognized for his ability to evoke the texture of ordinary American lives and the humanity he brings to what are often dark and brutal tales of poverty, violence, hard living and domestic abuse.

Mr. Banks has received several prizes and awards for his work, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, Ingram Merrill Award, The St. Lawrence Award for Short Fiction, O. Henry and Best American Short Story Award, The John Dos Passos Prize, and the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Continental Drift and Cloudsplitter were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 and 1998 respectively. Affliction was short listed for both the PEN/Faulkner Fiction Prize and the Irish International Prize.

His works have been widely translated and published in Europe and Asia. Two of his novels have been adapted for feature-length films, The Sweet Hereafter (directed by Atom Egoyan, winner of the Grand Prix and International Critics Prize at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival) and Affliction (directed by Paul Schrader, starring Nick Nolte, Willem Dafoe, Sissy Spacek, and James Coburn). He is the screenwriter of a film adaptation of Continental Drift.

Russell Banks lives in upstate New York. He is married to the poet Chase Twichell, and is the father of four grown daughters.

From the Hardcover edition.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
March 28, 1940
Place of Birth:
Newton, Massachusetts

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Darling 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Russell Bank's writing draws you in and keeps you there from the beginning. This story is fascinating and gives the reader a glimpse into a generation of activists and the underground as well as a look at the Liberian struggles, all set around a compelling and complex person in the form of 'Hannah'. Great characters and great story.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
celiacoplestone More than 1 year ago
A wonderful, complex, frightening, unforgettable book. Surely not for everyone, nor "just for fun" (though it Is compelling-compelling...) But, everyone Ought to read this book, and get whatever they may from it--- it is so rich. Again, as usual, for Banks. However, this is darker--- even than the Sweet Hereafter, in that it is very... viscerally disturbing; that is, by comparison The Sweet Hereafter is devastating, but comprehensible to Western/US minds. There is something at once foreign and so-close-to-home about the Darling--- it is terrifying, and, I feel, truly art.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am going to Liberia to work shortly. Even though the book is fiction, I found the historical events that are incorporated in this book to be very illuminating. I enjoyed reading this book.