Plot/Idea: This is a memorable work primarily because of the hardships protagonist Ella endures, the harsh environment, and the extreme poverty all around her. It is an unlikely setting for romance, yet it works.
Prose: The author crafts an attention-catching opening that will horrify but also engross readers at the same time. What follows, however, struggles to live up to the promise of the first scene. Phrasing is sometimes odd and direct when subtly would be far more effective.
Originality: This is a highly original work with a distinctive plot line and memorable events. The harshness of the setting in particular makes for an unforgettable story.
Character Development/Execution: The author does an effective job with characterization when it comes to Ella, but given the number of other characters and their, in most cases, fleeting appearances in the work, it's challenging to get to know them and their motivations.
Date Submitted: August 10, 2022
Plot: Any novel that begins with the sentence, “My husband was murdered in Darfur three months ago,” is bound to be eventful, and this one is, involving starving orphan children, AIDS, do-gooders, racism, trafficking in stolen human organs and ova, kidnapping, a nunnery in the middle of the desert, and sex, both violent and consensual. But in the end, this is at its core a story of colonialism and implicitly of white supremacy. Cayzer is the daughter of a U.S. Ambassador-at-Large whose first mission was to Ethiopia.
Prose/Style: The prose is compelling and accessible, although the unfortunate use of pidgin for most Black characters in the story feels distracting and not entirely successful.
Originality: The story, set in contemporary times, is told by Ella Phelps, widow of the heartless victim at the beginning of the novel. About a quarter of the way through the book, Ella discovers a schoolgirl’s diaries and Cayzer uses that device to relate historical and invented events that occurred in Africa between 1930 and 1946.
Character Development/Execution: Throughout the novel, Ella is a consistent character who faces myriad challenges with aplomb and an attitude of detachment.
Date Submitted: July 19, 2021