The Story of General Dann and Mara's Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog
HarperCollins, 2006 (2006)
Read an Excerpt
Reviewed by Tim Davis
n 1999, readers who enjoyed Doris Lessing's well-received novel
Mara and Dann
were introduced to '
a brother and sister battling through a future landscape where the climate is much changed - colder than ever before in the north and unbearably dry and hot in the south.
' Now, in Lessing's latest novel with the unusually long title, '
the odyssey continues.
ann, having risen to the rank of general in the army, has left the Farm where he had settled with his sister Mara, and - apparently having deserted from the army - he has traveled to and beyond the Centre on the Middle Seas, somewhere between the endangered continental landmasses of Yerrup and Ifrik. Now a despondent Dann finds himself wandering rather aimlessly on a paradoxical journey; Dann's descent into lethargy and indifference becomes a puzzling odyssey of escape (from responsibilities) and a frustrating search (for something like spiritual revival). The former general's hazardous travels in an inhospitable environment bring him in contact with a variety of people and - most significantly - a nearly drowned snow dog which Dann befriends and names Ruff.
earching for a raison d'Ítre, Dann eventually reunites with Griot, a loyal soldier and friend who gradually - in spite of overwhelming odds - helps Dann reinvent himself as a man who tries to understand and accept his responsibilities to himself, his sister Mara, his daughter whom he has not yet seen, and the steadily growing and increasingly impatient army of loyal followers who turn to Dann for leadership, inspiration, and purpose.
his saga of General Dann, the most recent SF offering from Doris Lessing - one of the most important literary fiction writers of the last half century - is fairly represented by the necessarily abbreviated plot synopsis outlined above. And it is worth noting that Lessing's novel appears to be rather simple on its surface; in fact, it very much resembles a fable or children's tale, but it is much more complicated, and I would offer this additional caveat: Doris Lessing has given readers a complex and, because of the narrative style, an occasionally frustrating novel that reads a bit like a moral allegory. Reading requires patience because the many loose thematic strands seem to converge into a coherent whole only when the novel is finished.
hen the novel, upon reflection, becomes a protracted examination of various themes that can perhaps best be expressed as (rhetorical?) questions: What are the limits of friendship? What responsibilities does one generation have toward another generation? What are the limits of sacrifice for persons, society, and ideals? What are the justifications, if any, for war? What kind of existence is possible in the aftermath of political, environmental, and climatic apocalypse? In a constantly changing (deteriorating) world in which nearly all history has been forgotten (hidden), how can anyone survive the (terrifying) present and prepare for the (uncertain) future?
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