The darling

by Russell Banks

Hardcover, 2004




New York : HarperCollins, 2004.


It's the 1970s. A political radical, Hannah has fled America for West Africa, where she and her Liberian husband, a government minister, become friends and colleagues of Charles Taylor, the notorious warlord and now ex-president of Liberia. When Taylor leaves for the U.S. in an effort to escape embezzlement charges, he's immediately placed in prison. And it is Hannah who eventually organizes and participates in his escape. Years later, when Taylor returns to Liberia to foment a bloody rebellion, Hannah's family is caught up in the civil war when her teenaged sons join the rebel movement. Ultimately, she is forced to make a heart-rending choice: abandon her family to its fate or stay and go down with them.

User reviews

LibraryThing member atheist_goat
Oh dear. Banks actually does okay with a female narrator until it comes to sex, and also when it comes to letters. Well, the gender of the narrator is of no moment when the author's trying to convince you that people write things like, "I've missed you in the three months since I've left," and
Show More
otherwise use their correspondence in the service of horribly clumsy exposition. But the letters are not as painful as the bit in which the narrator is leaving her husband and he wants sex and she turns him down because sex with him means rape but she doesn't really care (yeah, what I said earlier) and he says, "It may be a very long time, you know," and (I am transcribing from memory because it was that bad):

"Oh, Woodrow," I said, smiling into the darkness at the gods of sex who knew all that I knew and more.

The gods of... what? Who knew... what? DID YOU REALLY JUST WRITE THAT SENTENCE?
Show Less
LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
Somehow, I was expecting a bit more from this book. The story focuses on a woman named Hannah Musgrave, aka Dawn Carrington, aka Hannah Sundiata. During her college years, she works for civil rights in the south and for other causes, and then, just before graduating from Harvard Medical School,
Show More
becomes a radical activist, and works sort of on the sidelines for the Weather Underground. She finds herself on the FBI's most wanted list, and after her friend puts her in a tough spot, she takes off for Ghana. But after a disturbing revelation, Hannah moves onto Liberia and finds herself eventually married to a minister in the current government, and much later, finds herself in the thick of civil war.

Hannah's character comes off as being totally unbelievable -- she goes from radical wanted fugitive to living this sort of bourgeois lifestyle that was seemingly everything she was against before leaving the US. I just couldn't buy it. It even seems like Hannah couldn't figure it out either. I really didn't find Hannah a very well-drawn character...more like a shadow of what she could have been according to her own ideology.

Banks is a fine author, and the basic story here is good, but some of the situations in which Hannah finds herself, and more importantly, her reactions to them, just don't come off as realistic. Also, since the story begins with Hannah returning to Liberia, I assumed that there'd be more to that particular storyline than just a few pages.

I would recommend it, because I think it's a good glimpse into the Liberian political situation and a brief look at what happens to the US aid money that finds itself going abroad. If you're interested in either of those topics, you might enjoy it. Otherwise, it has sort of a falsity that might leave you cold.
Show Less
LibraryThing member zenhikers
This is the first novel I have read by Banks, so others may be better. My issue is that I just did not believe the author understood the character he created. How can an principled women with ideals so strong she leaves home and sacrifices her whole identity, morph herslf so easily and conveniently
Show More
as Hannah does in this novel? I just didn’t buy it and felt somewhere the story went wrong. I loved reading about the complexities of Africa, but I truly hated this character for being written in such an un-trusworthy voice. I couldn’t ever get over how she takes the job working in an animal experimentation lab and then turns into someone trying to save the same animals. How could she somewhat randomly meet and marry a government official (Woodrow) after being so independent, so anti-government, and so clearly unmotivated by feelings or intellect? As, I wrote before…I just was never convinced by the author and I didn’t “get it”.
Show Less
LibraryThing member SarahCHonenberger
Banks tried to write and think like a woman, didn't quite get it, but story is fascinating peek at what happened in Liberia under Charles Taylor
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
It's a political thriller, a sweeping epic spanning the decades of one woman's life, and a social commentary on Africa, racism and greed. It's all of these things. Dawn Carrington is Hannah Musgrave who is also "Scout." Dawn/Hannah/Scout is a woman with a past as complicated as her many names.
Show More
Brought up by affluent, almost snobby parents as Hannah she is drawn to the underworld of political terrorism as Dawn. On the run after being indicted for a bombing gone bad, Dawn flees to Liberia and, by marrying a government official, becomes Missus Sundiata, her fourth recreation. Told from future to past and back again Dawn/Hannah takes you on her unapologetic journey through deceit, corruption, power and humanity.

Part of the reason why I liked The Darling so well is because it was written by a man. Russell Banks is able to capture the voice of a woman as a wife, mother, and an individual fiercely protective of her independence and individuality. Even if she doesn't know who she really is. The first person voice is reminiscent of Barbara Kingsolver's Taylor Greer or Margaret Atwood's Handmaid.
Show Less
LibraryThing member damsorrow
My review is that this book rules! What I learned from this book is that Russell Banks is a fucking awesome writer and that The Darling is an awesome book! The narrator is a woman, a wife and a mother but she just doesn't give a fuck! I truly appreciated Mr. Banks' work revising and adding
Show More
complexity to a female narrator in this regard!
Show Less
LibraryThing member mbergman
As in his previous novel about John Brown, Cloudsplitter, Banks combines personal intimacy with political insight in a gripping drama that gets preachy only briefly a couple of times. Immediately in the wake of the 9/11 attacks (barely mentioned but prominent as a backdrop), a woman in her 50s
Show More
narrates her story from the time she goes underground as a member of a Weatherman cell until she winds up in Liberia, marries a minor government official, has 3 sons, is exiled to the U.S. for a few years, then returns to Liberia again until she is forced out by Charles Taylor's rise to power, in which she is complicit. While in Liberia, she cares for chimpanzees, which provides many occasions for her reflections on her engagement with her family, her world, & her past. Set largely in Liberia, it says a lot indirectly about American life & politics in the past 40 years.
Show Less
LibraryThing member samcoy
love this my first Russell Banks novel, once I completed the story, Loaned the book to a friend.
When Found the novel , read the back cover. Laid book down walked away. Few moments later, picked the book back up. Started story immediately, loved every page , for me, Could believe in the character,
Show More
of Hannah. As She grows older, what matters, changes. Some of her choices were poor.Were the sex scenes, a reflection of her changing feelings toward her husband. She wil also have an interests in women-could that be why, her time with a man, was wrote as it was.

Will not write her of what happens in the story, others have done that- Read this story, decide for your self- Why Russell Banks wrote the sex and letter scenes, the way he did. Story moves quickly and is easy to follow. Your will learn some about liberia, during Charles Taylor watch.
Show Less
LibraryThing member dysmonia
Really pretty brilliantly put together.
LibraryThing member ruthseeley
Russell Banks is full of surprises. Great to see him moving beyond New England in this one and really stretching himself as a writer. No more third-generation-loser male protagonists (although he captures their lives of not-so-quiet desperation with exquisitely painful detail, they do tend to be
Show More
depressing). This is one of my favourite Banks' novels.
Show Less
LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Disturbing scenarios, disengaged main character, and factual errors (there are no sloths in Africa; they live only in South America).
LibraryThing member pcurl
Russell Banks is a fine writer with excellent pacing.
While this book was not really my cup of tea, the story was fairly interesting.
However, the book was written in the first person from the perspective of a protagonist I couldn't relate to or empathize with.
LibraryThing member kaitanya64
This author's most spectacular failure to date. The main character is whiny and strange, and the minor African characters with whom she interacts are inscrutably vicious stereotypes of the "uncivilized other."
LibraryThing member nancynova
rabck from sweet sangria; Set mostly in Liberia, Hannah is a fugitive in the US and emigrates first to Ghana and then lands in Liberia, where she interviews for a job with Woodrow, whom she eventually marries. She likes her position as the white American wife of a black politician, but after her
Show More
husband is murdered during the civil war and her children become boy soldiers, she is forced to flee. Very good, but the author tried to tidy up the ending too much. The video of her boys and the revelation that the CIA was manipulating her wasn't needed.
Show Less
LibraryThing member mmignano11
"The Darling" by Russell Banks, is a dark novel about the injustices perpetrated on the inhabitants of West Africa, most specifically Liberia, seen through the eyes of a white woman, Hannah Musgrave, or Dawn Carrington, the alias she finds it necessary to give herself. Hannah is a political
Show More
activist, not a leader, but a worker, eagerly participating in the mundane tasks necessary to keep a revolution from sinking into oblivion. Passing out pamphlets, attending protests, recruiting members are only some of the activities she takes part in. Not on the Top Ten wanted list, she does however, feel that she must stay "underground" to protect herself and the movement she is part of, secret. Eventually, her activism brings her to West Africa, where she meets her future husband, a low-level bureaucrat in the Liberian government. In a few short months, they are married. The novel begins with Hannah returning to West Africa to find her sons, who disappeared many years before. Hannah begins the story of how she ended up on a farm in the Adirondacks, a widow, with missing sons, working hard with several other women on the farm, to keep their way of life going. She has a distinct voice, as always Banks creates a character the reader can believe in, a person with flaws, occasional bravery and fearlessness, always questioning the motivation behind their actions, even when they are successful. His characters are vividly drawn, both physically and psychically. The book is dense with information about the region in which it takes place, the political climate, and people who inhabit the villages and cities of West Africa. Banks never bores me, I can honestly say he is on the top of my Top Ten list of favorite authors. His "Angel on the Roof" first introduced me to Banks. It is a book of short stories that intertwine so that we come to know the inhabitants of the trailer park where the action takes place. His characters are so vividly drawn, not only do they entertain us but we share in their trials and tribulations, we connect with them and recognize ourselves in them. I didn't want "The Angel On the Roof" to end, and while "The Darling" is a more complex read, and requires closer attention, it is still utterly delightful. I intend to read everything Banks has written, and in fact, have the novel "Cloudsplitter" on my TBR list. If "The Darling" sounds in the least bit interesting, don't hesitate to read it, although you could start with any of his books and be happy with it.
Show Less
LibraryThing member piefuchs
Banks veers away from his usual topic of working class New England men and writes tells the story of a fictionalized bit player in a Weather Underground like organization who accepts, and then self imposes, exile in Liberia and falls in love with and marries a Liberian politician/rebel.

Show More
strength in this book lies in the development of the main character as a fearful rebel from a wealthy family and private school who clings to and defines herself by her youthful rebellion, even though it was by Weatherman standards minor, and in the present day, irrelevant. Her attempts to reject her wealthy northeast past and fit into Liberian society are a predictable failure. Somehow the sense of difference she derives from her radicalism are more important to her than anything else.

The plot, however, tends to touch on the unbelievable and fails to draw you in.
Show Less
LibraryThing member magonistarevolt
This book had two major conceptual problems for me:

1) The Orientalist nature that the narrator looks at Africa. It is so outside of her and her experience, even when she lives there for a quarter century. We can never empathize with any African character, because all of them are seen as monsters,
Show More
incapable of the human emotions that the narrator feels. Frankly, if it weren't for the narrator's inability to connect with people outside of Africa, I would be calling this book racist.

2) The misunderstanding of radicalism and feminism. The narrator feels as if she has been crippled from her "natural instincts" by the feminist reworking of her life. As if being forced into the nuclear family as a domestic slave is anything close to natural. Patriarchy oppresses women, not feminism. Feminist reorganization of kinship, relationship, and parenting roles is not removing or deleting "natural instinct." It is removing the boot off of the neck of women and enabling them to be what they naturally are: human.

It was marginally entertaining, if wholly depressing. And the last page about 9/11 and the massive restructuring of US society to render people like her obsolete is an interesting insight. If I actually had to read this instead of listening to it during my commute on CDs, I may not have finished it.
Show Less


Audie Award (Finalist — 2005)
LA Times Book Prize (Finalist — Fiction — 2004)


Local notes



Page: 1.3041 seconds