Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Bay Of Foxes by Sheila Kohler

It is 1978 and Dawit is in Paris.  But this is no fairy tale.  Dawit is an illegal immigrant from Ethiopia where he grew up rich and secure due to his father's high position in the government.  That all changed when the rebels came.  Dawit went from riches to absolute poverty as his family exploded.  His father dead, Dawit and his mother sent to the prisons where few ever emerge.  After weeks or months of torture, Dawit manages to escape and eventually makes his way to Paris.

In Paris, he wanders the streets penniless during the days.  At night, he can sleep in an apartment crammed full of other Ethiopian immigrants and grab a few bites.  One day Dawit manages to make a bit of money working for cash and wanders into a cafe where he can order a coffee and sit at peace for a while in the kind of surroundings he used to take for granted.  Also there, Dawit recognizes the famous woman author, M.  For some reason, when M. sees him looking at her, she beckons him over.  Soon they are talking, and M. seems impressed by his beauty and obvious education.  The encounter ends with her asking Dawit to come to her apartment in a few days time.

When he goes, M. quizzes him more about his former life.  She ends up offering him shelter in her apartment.  Dawit's life undergoes a dramatic change.  Now he acts as her secretary, arranging her life and serving as her editor.  M gives hm money and buys him beautiful clothes.  Dawit knows this is due to his youth and beauty, but makes an uneasy bargain.

As summer approaches, M tells Dawit they will be going to her summer home, a villa on the island of Sardinia.  Things start to fall apart.  M is becoming impatient that Dawit will not give her the physical love she craves.  Things escalate when Dawit falls in love with another and M starts to realise it.  How far will M go to get the payback she believes is her due?  What will Dawit do to maintain his precarious climb out of poverty and obscurity?

Sheila Kohler has written a beautiful, chilling spellbinder.  The writing is languorous, echoing the hot country of Dawit's birth and the island luxury he finds himself in.  The question of motives, of what we owe those who help us, of reciprocation of desires, is hauntingly raised.  This book is recommended for readers of general and literary fiction.

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