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Liana by Martha Gellhorn
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Liana (1944)

by Martha Gellhorn

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711168,809 (3.3)27

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I was most pleasantly surprised by this novel. A moving story of a young mulatto girl taken as a mistress, and then married by a wealthy white man on a French Caribbean island cut off from the rest of the world by World War II. It's really the classic Pygmalion tale in an exotic setting, very well told. Despite the cluelessness of the men who decide Liana's fate without consulting her wishes, their characters are not entirely unsympathetic. Sometimes, they ALMOST get the notion that their creation has feelings, although what to do about that is beyond their comprehension.

A quote: "Two men came in one day with a five hundred pound mako. It was amazing that two men in a skiff, using a handline, could have fought and killed that monster...He loved to fish too; he knew that beautiful harsh wonder of a man in a small boat alone on the sea." This book was written while Gellhorn was married to Hemingway, but about 10 years before the publication of The Old Man and the Sea. ( )
1 vote laytonwoman3rd | Apr 15, 2009 |
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FOR
EDNA GELLHORN
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In the afternoon at five o'clock he took his wife for a drive.
My distinguished publishers believe that a novel of a certain age, like this one, requires a preface or an afterword by way of explanation. (Afterword)
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From the back cover: "It was a terrific year for talk. But through it all the talk would come back to Marc Royer and Liana. That subject never failed; it belonged to the island entirely. Everyone asked everyone else, during that whole year, why Marc Royer had married her"

The year is 1940. France has fallen to the Germans, but on the tiny French Caribbean island of Saint Boniface nothing absorbs the inhabitants more than the news of wealthy Marc Royer's marriage to the young mulatto, Liana. Marc himself is impervious to the scandal - Liana, after all, is "something he had bought for use when he could not have what he loved" - but for Liana the price of becoming a "white wife" is alienation both from her own people and from those whom, for a time, she tries to emulate. Only with Pierre, her teacher, does she feel herself free, but he is white, and a man, and in the end knows where his allegiances lie. Liana does not have that certainty and in this disturbing novel about the sadness and inhumanity of oppression, her plight speaks to us as powerfully today as when Liana was first published in 1944.
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