The Nature of Bloodby Caryl Phillips
In his most ambitious novel to date, Phillips creates a dazzling kaleidoscope of historical fiction, one that illuminates the dark legacy of Europe's obsession with race and blood. At the center of The Nature of Blood is a young woman, a Nazi death camp survivor, devastated by the loss of everyone she loves. Her story is interwoven with a cast of characters from both the present and past: her uncle Stephan, Othello the Moorish general, three Jews in 15th century Venice, and an Ethiopian Jew struggling for acceptance in contemporary Israel. Tracing these characters through disparate lands and centuries, Phillips creates an unforgettable group portrait of individuals overwhelmed by the force of European tribalism.
"An extraordinarily perceptive and intelligent novel, and a haunting one."New York Times
In the central story, Phillips traces the life of Eva Stern, a German Jew who survives both the loss of her family and her own sufferings in a concentration camp during WW II, only to learn that "liberation" can't free her from the pain of memories or the guilt of having lived when so many died. Closely related subplots examine the emotions of a British soldier who pleads unsuccessfully for Eva's hand in marriage, and the loneliness endured by her uncle Stephan, who abandons his wife and child to participate in the building of the new state of Israel. Another major narrative block describes the persecution of 15th-century Jewish moneylenders accused of the ritual murder of a Christian child. This is a baldly discursive sequence, scarcely fictionalized at all, and weighted with redundancies. And, in a surprising change of paceand skillful piece of writingPhillips retells the story of Othello's passion for Desdemona and his fruitless attempts to blend into Venetian society, all in the Moor's own limpid, sensuous, lushly imagistic language. Various tricks with perspective and voice scattered throughout these several stories fail to disguise the obvious fact that Eva Stern's is by far the most powerfuland that its power is vitiated by all those sudden unannounced shifts of subject and tone. Whatever the novel gains in thematic coherence from its odd structure, it loses in the reader's frequently distracted relationship to its most compelling character.
An interesting concept, but Phillips's virtuosity calls all too much attention to itself. Not one of this talented author's better books.
Meet the Author
Caryl Phillips is the author of five previous novels, The Final Passage, A State of Independence, Higher Ground, Cambridge, and Crossing the River (shortlisted for the Booker Prize). Awards he has received include the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He divides his time between London and New York City.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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