The Civilized World
Henry Holt, 2011 (2011)
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Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle
he Civilized World
, by Susi Wyss, consists of nine short stories about five women, three of them American and the other two African. Most of the stories take place in Africa, but two (in one of which the main character is American, and in the other her African mother-in-law, who is visiting from Ghana) are set in the United States. The stories are interconnected in such a way that they form a sort of loose novel. In other words there is no over-riding plot. One could almost call this a dance, with the characters coming together at times and moving to their own music at other times, the music being their internal dialogues and problems, all of which are finally resolved by the end of the last story.
n the first story we meet Adjoa, who, displaced from her own country by the lack of jobs there, is providing massages to well-off women and trying to save enough money to open a beauty parlor back home. Janice, an American, is one of her clients - we meet her more fully in the fourth story. The second story introduces us to Ophelia, a Foreign Service wife who has difficulty adjusting to Africa. Comfort, who is visiting her son and his American wife Linda in the United States, misses her home country of Ghana and finds her son and daughter-in-law's lifestyle and country interesting, but confusing. We don't get to know Linda well until one of the last stories in the book. Although there are men in the stories, and they are important parts of the women's stories, none of them are as fully drawn as these five women.
really enjoyed these stories. If I had any criticism it would be that I wanted to learn more about the women, as their stories seemed to end too soon. They were all slightly flawed, but their problems were universal: wanting children, keeping themselves or their children safe, finding life partners, making enough money, and getting along with other women. These themes were the music to which they danced. They are after all the basis of civilization, and the
of the title is the world that they live in, wherever they might live.
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