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The Nature of Blood

The Nature of Blood

5.0 1
by Caryl Phillips

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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


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

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In all his novels, Phillips ("Crossing the River", etc.), born in St. Kitts and raised in England, has experimented with voice to convey the dislocations of slavery, colonialism and postcolonialism. His sixth novel surges as well with the themes of his earlier fiction; the experience of homelessness, the wounds and blindnesses of racism. It deals with unexpected subject matter, however: the Holocaust, allowing Phillips to boldly challenge notions of essential ethnic identity by turning from the experience of slavery to that of the German concentration camps, from pan-African nationalism to Zionism. The novel's primary voice belongs to Eva Stern, a young woman who has just been liberated by the English army from a German camp. Through a series of flashbacks and recollections, Eva remembers life with her family, and then her experience in the camp. Phillips intercuts Eva's story with two wildly discontinuous narratives: one a retelling of the story of Othello in Othello's own voice; the other an account of the 15th-century persecution of the money-lending Jews of the Italian city Portobuffole, who were accused of murdering a Christian child. Additional narratives flow in and out, including those of Gerry, the English soldier who asks Eva to marry him, and of Eva's Uncle Stephen, who left Germany to assist in the formation of the Jewish state in Israel; there are encyclopedic glosses on Othello and on the etymology of the word "ghetto" as well. Phillips makes little effort to impose coherence or to tie together loose ends, a technique that may frustrate some readers. But he brilliantly captures his various protagonists' voices, evoking their common humanity as they struggle with and against social definitions of the nature of their blood.
Library Journal
A range of characters inhabit Phillips's new novel, a Jewish doctor who gives up family and security to fight for Israel; the Jews of 15th-century Portobufole, outside Venice, who are tolerated as useful but arrested and tortured when rumor of a Gentile child's blood sacrifice gets going; Othello, honored in Venice but ever the outsider ("my friend, an African river bears no resemblance to a Venetian canal. Only the strongest spirit can hold together both"); and an Ethiopian Jewish woman, ignorant of the modern world, who has returned home to Israel. At the heart of the novel, but not exactly holding together its shimmering, disparate parts is Eva Stern, niece of the crusading Jewish doctor, who recounts tensions in her family before World War II devastates Europe and then the horror of concentration and d.p. camps in an unadorned, dispassionate voice. Not as compactly written as works like Phillips's "Cambridge" (LJ 2/1/92), this novel nevertheless evokes a sense of the outsider's awful burden throughout time. Recommended for most collections. Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Kirkus Reviews
The West Indian born author of "Crossing the River" (1994), among other fiction, here offers an earnest novel composed of parallel narratives, each exploring the consequences of racial or ethnic prejudice and hatred.

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 pace—and skillful piece of writing—Phillips 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 powerful—and 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.

Product Details

Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.68(h) x 0.92(d)

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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Nature of Blood 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was not like anyother book I read, it is unbelivablr how Mr. Phillips knows so much, and writes with such passion, this is one book you will not put done, the way the stories meld, is so different, from others, for such a young man his historcial facts are perfect, this one is a tear jerker, outstanding book,