Darling

Darling

by Russell Banks

Paperback

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Overview

Russell Banks has exhibited an astonishingly imaginative range throughout his distinguished career as a novelist, and his uniquely realistic American voice, on display in such modern classics as Rule of the Bone and Continental Drift, continues to shine in this latest effort. Fans and newcomers alike will be rewarded by his incisive eye for character and his ability to deliver a relentless and engaging narrative — always in the service of his inimitable style.

The Darling is Hannah Musgrave's story, told emotionally and convincingly years later by Hannah herself. A political radical and member of the Weather Underground, Hannah has fled America to West Africa, where she and her Liberian husband become friends and colleagues of Charles Taylor, the notorious warlord and now ex-president of Liberia. When Taylor leaves for the United States in an effort to escape embezzlement charges, he's immediately placed in prison. Hannah's encounter with Taylor in America ultimately triggers a series of events whose momentum catches Hannah's family in its grip and forces her to make a heartrending choice.

Set in Liberia and the United States from 1975 through 1991, The Darling is a political-historical thriller — reminiscent of Greene and Conrad — that explodes the genre, raising serious philosophical questions about terrorism, political violence, and the clash of races and cultures.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780594762676
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/11/2005
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Russell Banks, twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, is one of America’s most prestigious fiction writers, a past president of the International Parliament of Writers, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Common Wealth Award for Literature. He lives in upstate New York and Miami, Florida.

Date of Birth:

March 28, 1940

Place of Birth:

Newton, Massachusetts

Read an Excerpt

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, they moved on to the barn and from there to the henhouse, where the rooster crowed, and then loped all the way to the pond in the front field, where they woke the ducks and geese, never stopping, running in tandem, a pair of single-minded predators sifting their territory at peak efficiency.

Reading Group Guide

1. What is the significance of the title, The Darling?

2. Hannah Musgrave spends much of her life in the US and Liberia under an alias, Dawn Carrington. She recalls that for a time as a child, she insisted on being known as “Scout,” and she feels that Woodrow has two separate lives: one in Freetown, and one in Fuama. How does identity play out in The Darling? What did the novel make you think about personality – could you only have lived the life you have, or do we each contain multitudes?

3. “If humans, like the rest of the animals, could not speak, we would all live together in peace, devouring one another solely out of necessity and instinct, our positions in the food chain nicely balanced by need and numbers. If we were as speechless as my collies on the farm or the hens and sheep and the geese, if we barked or baa’d or clucked or if like the chimps we could only hoot and holler and otherwise had to depend on body language, we would not kill one another or any other animal solely for the pleasure on it. The power of speech is the speech of power. Vows of silence are pledges to peaceableness. Silence is indeed golden, and a golden age would be silent.”

Do you agree?

4. Charles Taylor and Samuel Doe are real people as well as characters in The Darling – and at one point John Kerry gets a mention, having gone on a rafting trip with Hannah’s parents. How does Russell Banks meld the historic and the fictional in this novel? Did you find its combination of the factual and imaginary persuasive or unsettling, or both?

5. How are Hannah’s “dreamers” important to her and to the novel as a whole?

6. How would you sum up the character of Hannah Musgrave? How well do you feel she understands herself? Do you agree with the choices she makes in her life? Would you call her a good person?

7. At the novel’s close, Hannah says, “It was September 10th, 2001, and one dark era was about to end and another, darker era to begin, one in which my story could never have happened, my life not possibly been lived.” In what way is The Darling a portrait of a generation?

8. What are your criticisms of The Darling?

9. What do you think of the novel’s presentation of the relations of the United States with Liberia – and by extension, with other countries in the developing world? You might want to discuss the actions of Sam Clement, the US’s “cultural attaché” in Freetown.

10. On a few occasions the narrator comments on what she is doing in telling her story: “I had no choice but to alter, delete, revise, and invent whole chapters of my story. Just as, for the same reasons, I am doing here, telling it to you.” How do you feel about these moments? About the narrative voice of the novel as a whole?

11. What do you make of Iris Musgrave’s reaction to her husband’s death (Hannah’s father)?

12. Compare The Darling’s description of west Africa with another writer’s: you could consider Joseph Conrad, Chinua Achebe, Graham Greene...

13. What happens to Hannah in Fuama, so that, “Afterwards I was a subtly changed person, and Africa no longer frightened me”? Why?

14. If you have read other novels by Russell Banks, how would you compare The Darling with them? In what ways is this book a departure? How does it explore the themes the author has pursued in the rest of his work?

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