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Hello to the Cannibals

Hello to the Cannibals

5.0 3
by Richard Bausch

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At first, all Lily Austin knows about 19th–century explorer Mary Kingsley is that, 100 years before, she was the first white woman to venture into the heart of Africa. But as Lily begins reading about Mary Kingsley, she becomes more and more fascinated – and discovers in Mary a kindred spirit.

In her own life, Lily feels trapped – on the


At first, all Lily Austin knows about 19th–century explorer Mary Kingsley is that, 100 years before, she was the first white woman to venture into the heart of Africa. But as Lily begins reading about Mary Kingsley, she becomes more and more fascinated – and discovers in Mary a kindred spirit.

In her own life, Lily feels trapped – on the one hand, she craves family and intimate connection; on the other hand, she has no healthy or satisfying role models. Consequently, as she nears graduation from the University of Virginia, she finds herself uncertain about what to do with her life.

As she researches Mary's life – she has begun writing a play about her – Lily comes to witness Mary's incredible bravery and startling originality, qualities that prove inspirational to Lily, whose own bravery is required as she attempts to navigate dysfunctional and destructive relationships with her young husband, her extended family – and a legacy of abuse dating back to her childhood.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Two women who write-Lily Austin, a young wife living in Oxford, Miss., in the early 1990s, and Mary Kingsley, the real-life 1890s explorer and author of Travels in West Africa-are the dual protagonists of this novel by acclaimed short-story writer Bausch. Lily, the daughter of two Washington, D.C., actors, leaves college-and her best friend, Dominic, to whom she loses her virginity just before he realizes he is gay-to marry Tyler Harrison, her roommate Sheri Galatierre's half brother. The couple move to Mississippi and live briefly with the Galatierres, a wealthy, complicated, enveloping family. At first their stay is blissful, but when Lily tells Tyler that she is pregnant, he turns strangely distant. His explanation for his behavior, which comes just before the baby is born, threatens their marriage; meantime, a terrible accident devastates the whole Galatierre clan. Throughout it all, Lily is writing a play about Mary Kingsley, which makes for an uneasy segue to Kingsley's life. Kingsley is writing a diary addressed to an unknown future reader, through which readers are granted glimpses of the Kingsley family (particularly her favored but incompetent brother Charley), and Kingsley's travels-first to the Canary Islands, then to West Africa. Kingsley, a cult figure, is a tempting subject for fictional rendering, but devotees may take issue at Bausch's portrait of her, which leaves out much of her biting wit and casual savagery. Lily herself is a curiously static character, changing little from start to finish, though her relationship with the volatile Tyler is convincingly charged. The novel's unwieldiness can make it a laborious read, but a number of very good, lively scenes-particularly those involving the Galatierre family-lighten the journey. (Sept.) Forecast: Bausch's novels have never been as consistently lauded as his short stories, and this novel may get the usual mixed reviews, but strong backing by HarperCollins-including a five-city author tour-should help sales. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Newly married, pregnant, and living far from home with her hard-drinking Southern in-laws, Lily Austin escapes the humiliations and disappointments of her circumscribed life by reading everything she can find about the intrepid Victorian explorer Mary Kingsley. She writes Kingsley imaginary letters and eventually starts a stage play about her titled Hello to the Cannibals. Presumably, the play will be Lily's ticket out. Mary Kinglsey nursed her dying mother for decades and never left Liverpool until she was in her thirties, but she later traveled alone throughout West Africa, astonishing everyone she met with her bravery and sense of humor. Her travel memoirs brought instant celebrity in Great Britain, but she only felt truly alive in Africa, away from family and friends. Kingsley's story is undeniably powerful, and Bausch (In the Night Season) is clearly invigorated by it, to the extent that his vivid Kingsley chapters completely overwhelm the tepid Lily Austin story. This overly long novel is really two full-length books stitched together, and one is much more interesting than the other. For larger collections of historical fiction.-Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles
Kirkus Reviews
The conflicted love life and intellectual life of a woman coming to maturity in the ’90s is juxtaposed with her imagined account of the experiences of 19th-century British explorer--and author of Travels in West Africa--Mary Kingsley. Virginian Lily Austin, daughter of two successful stage actors, drifts through college vaguely planning to act or write, eventually falling for her roommate’s charismatic half-brother Tyler Harrison, and, after their marriage, moving with him to the Mississippi home of their family, the Galatierres. Simultaneously, Lily researches the Victorian adventuress’s exploits, plans a play about Kingsley, writes "letters" to her in an ongoing journal, and dreams, as it were, the latter’s history. These Victorian materials then alternate with the lengthy processes whereby Lily discovers Tyler’s emotional and marital failings and the truth about the paternity of her baby daughter (named, inevitably, Mary), then strikes out on her own determined to become a woman as independent as her 19th-century idol. Only some of this works. The chapters focused on Mary Kingsley tell the increasingly absorbing story of a "spirited" woman who shrugs off her culture’s ideas about woman’s proper place and makes increasingly dangerous trips to the Canary Islands, Sierra Leone, and the African mainland, encountering patronizing males, locusts, hungry crocodiles, jungle fever, and worse, finally journeying further southward (and proclaiming, in a passage in Lily’s play spoken after her death, that "I came down to Cape Town, in South Africa, to die"). The problem is that Kingsley’s heroic struggles with her culture’s chauvinism and sexism do not in any credible way resemble Lily’ssoap-operatic stumbling toward fulfillment. The two women’s stories thus neither mirror each other nor thematically connect, as Bausch obviously intends. Still, Bausch’s expansive, and somewhat exhausting, ninth novel (after In the Night Season, 1998) is a bold attempt at something different, and, as such, his most interesting thus far. Author tour

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Chapter One

Toward the end of her junior year of college, her parents separated, and that summer, the hottest summer anyone could remember, she heard them discuss their dissolving marriage individually, to different people, in distressingly composed, matter-of-fact voices. They might as well have been talking about refinancing a mortgage. With her, they were mutually reserved, polite, careful not to criticize each other. They spoke of reciprocal respect, of what was best for everyone; and it seemed that no rancor existed between them. Indeed, once it came to the final arrangements, they both appeared rather self-satisfied for having accomplished everything with a minimum of pathological scenes. Even the lawyers called it amicable.

In Lily Austin's mind, there was nothing about splitting a household in two that could be called anything of the sort.

Her roommate, Sheri Galatierre, attempted to divert her, asking her along to parties and other social events. Lily mostly demurred. As it had been for years, now, she was troubled by the company of strangers, though she didn't express it that way. She didn't know, really, how to say what she wanted.

Sheri had a way of getting down into her sorrow with her that made her feel worse, though the other woman obviously meant to help. Dominic Martinez also tried to distract her, being goofy and chattering, clowning for her. He had come to the university that year, having transferred in from North Carolina. He'd walked up to her after one of the performances of the drama department, and said, "Ronda Seiver's party." It had startled Lily, and for a moment she hadn't recognized him. "You got the book that hadthe lady explorer in it."

"Dominic?" she said.

He bowed, exactly as he had that night at Ronda's house.

They had become rather like brother and sister, since then. Dominic sometimes refused to indulge her. He would tell her to grow up and stop twisting her own knife in herself. Strangely, that helped some.

Yet in the hours when she was alone, nothing quite reached the place where she was hurting. The facts hurt; the knowledge of what had lately transpired between her parents caused a deep, unreachable, continual ache. She couldn't shake the old, terrible, familiar sense of having been betrayed. And so while everyone around her spoke in terms of romance, and while it was in all the books and the plays she was reading -- and last spring she had played the most romantic of parts, Rosalind, in As You Like It -- Lily had decided that the whole thing was a lie and a cheat.

Her father, completely serious, and without a trace of irony, had an affair with someone he worked with. He spoke about falling in love. He used the phrase, telling Lily's mother about it, confessing to her that it had been going on for more than a year, crying idiotically and beggingher to forgive him. Lily's mother, who had felt the weight of her own increasing estrangement from him, went into an almost surreptitious six-week-long depression, then gathered strength and called a lawyer. Everything was decided with an efficiency, a courtesy, that Lilydeplored. It was as if her parents had decided to close a long-running play in which they had performed the lead roles.


This was in 1988. Bush and Dukakis were running for Reagan's soon-to-be vacated office, and Lily, entering her last year of college, found that she couldn't care less. In the fall, back at school, she went through the strangeness of writing to and communicating with her parents separately, and of having to speak to the young woman, a set designer, to whom her father was now married (a civil ceremony in Maryland, three days after the divorce was final, in late July). The strain worked on her in unexpected ways: she had experienced episodes of panic and sleeplessness. And when she could sleep at all she had nightmares -- one, quite recently, about her fourteenth birthday. She was more upset about how it made her feel than she was about the nightmare itself; inexplicably, it was worse waking from it than being in it.

She had registered for double the normal hours, having lost a semester when she switched majors, and wanting to graduate on time. Her teachers liked her ability to lose herself in whatever role she tried, and others commented favorably on her performances. When she had played Rosalind, there was a certain pleasure in being recognized. But she was already discovering that she had no taste for being in front of people. There was something in herself that she defied by continuing to perform, though her sense of this was visceral, flying in the face of her own increasingly introverted feelings. Her discomfiture after the performances, her absence at most of the celebrations and cast parties and social gatherings, had become the subject of talk among the other members of the drama school. She went her own way; and people began to leave her alone. Even Dominic and Sheri kept a certain respectful distance at times.

The panic she managed mostly to keep at bay, though trying to decide what she might do after college, after all this relentless work, was cause for anxiety, too. The anxiety, whatever its source, plagued her. When one was suffering through this kind of distraction, it was nearly impossible to concentrate on memorizing large masses of text. It was difficult enough just getting through assigned reading.

On one of the last football weekends of her senior year -- a crisp, breezy Saturday with the smell of burning leaves in the air and a pleasant coolness that seemed a kind of mingling of the fading summer and the coming winter -- Sheri cajoled and begged her into accompanying her to the game. The Cavaliers won big, though since she didn't know anything about football ...

Hello to the Cannibals. Copyright © by Richard Bausch. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Richard Bausch is the author of nine other novels and seven volumes of short stories. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Playboy, GQ, Harper's Magazine, and other publications, and has been featured in numerous best-of collections, including the O. Henry Awards' Best American Short Stories and New Stories from the South. In 2004 he won the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story.

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Hello to the Cannibals 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although I haven't read "Hello" yet, I have read Bausch novels and short stories before and have found all to be enjoyable. In addition, if you ever have the chance to take Mr. Bausch's fiction writing classes at Virginia's finest university - George Mason, in Fairfax, VA (I'm biased because I have three degrees from there)- do so. It was a joy to learn from a talented writer. I like to share Bauschesque stories in my high school English classrooms. Also worth checking out...twin brother Robert's book "A Hole in the Earth". It's very impressive fiction. As a twin myself, I like to promote the gifts of twins, too.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was such a wonderful read! The stories of both women are real and convincing. Mary is courageous, and Lily is someone all of us can relate to. A brilliant book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The previous reviewer comment was written back in May of 1999, when B&N listed Hello To The Cannibals as being available. There was a mix up somewhere. Except for the fact that I have now finished the book and it is now in print, and B&N is now listing it as available, all of the above still holds true--especially that I can't bring myself to rate this novel as less than I fervently hope it is (anyway, it's as true and right as I could possibly make it) and the setup of the on-line commenting won't allow me to submit a comment without a rating. Sincerely, Richard Bausch.