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The Nature of Blood by Caryl Phillips
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The Nature of Blood (1997)

by Caryl Phillips

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Events set in the 16th- and the 20th-century are interwoven, narrated by multiple voices. The two main ones: Eva, the young Jewish woman, fugitive from the Nazis; we meet her first the moment the concentration camp is liberated by the British Army. Then the black general hired by the Doge to lead the Venetians against the Turks. The structure is that of a film: frequent cuts and flashbacks. Not easy this task: Phillips succeeds.
Reading demands close attention, not difficult this, the book captivates without one having to give up ones critical distance - it fulfills Brecht’s demands.
What humans can do to each other, the pain, can be overwhelming. Afterwards I wondered how Phillips could bear living with writing over weeks and months. A difficult book. A deeply human book. Brilliant! (VII-13) ( )
  MeisterPfriem | Jul 10, 2013 |
Eminently teachable. I'm using it to conclude my MA graduate intro to literary theory course to serve as a kind of laboratory for postcolonial, feminist, trauma, new historicism, etc. criticism. Phillips has been well-reviewed probably hundreds of times, and this book in particular is a huge hit in academia (nearly 20 articles on it in scholarly journals since publication), so there's no much more for *me* to say here. I can point out, though, the opening pages, which, while they take place in Cyprus, seem to take place nowhere and at no time in particular. We could be in prehistoric times. My question for the students was, "when do we learn when and where we are? what are some effects of Phillips delaying this information?" A useful place to open discussion, once one ensures that the students have the plot clearly in their minds. ( )
  karl.steel | Apr 2, 2013 |
This is one of those postmodern(ish?) intertextual modern novels that I don't really know how to describe. I suppose someone more familiar with the genre could do it, but other than saying "yeah, it's literary, also highly intertextual?" is beyond me.

It's really interesting, though. Fascinating, too. There's several plots within the book, I guess you could say, but they're all the same story, though the characters may be different age or sex or ethnicity, and the setting is different, too, in both place and time. The main thing is the cyclical nature of history and the treatment of the "other."

It's a bit odd to me that I love this book so much that it has remained on my "favorites" shelf after five years of culling old books-for-class, and I wrote two essays for the literary theory class about it, and I've referred to it several times in other classes (as an English major) -- but I just don't know how to put my thoughts on it into a short little review.

But I do know that I'm a fan of nonlinear narratives, and I like novels that explore identity and otherness, and The Nature of Blood is very much both of those things. It was a surprisingly easy read, too, even though I'm perpetually unfamiliar with Shakespeare's Othello, which provides a huge chunk of the story (this despite reading the play several times and even seeing it performed once). ( )
  keristars | Feb 22, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679776753, Paperback)

Like his earlier works, the novels Cambridge and Crossing the River, Caryl Phillips's The Nature of Blood is made up of several stories that take place over a large span of time. The result of this innovative technique is that themes, characters, and incidents resonate against one another, and history is seen not as a straight line but as a circle or a spiral. In one story, a Jewish man abandons his family to fight for the state of Israel. In another, the Moor Othello, another soldier who has left his family, comes to Venice. There, he visits the Jewish ghetto and finds himself astounded that "they should choose to live in this manner." Phillips's most daring feat in this provocative and thoughtful novel, however, may be to write in the first person about a Holocaust survivor just after World War II.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:45 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The lot of outsiders throughout history. The protagonists, whose stories are told in parallel chapters, are mainly Jews. One survives a World War II concentration camp, another lives through the persecution of Jews in 15th century Venice, a third is an Ethiopian Jew in modern Israel. By a West Indian writer, author of Crossing the River.… (more)

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