CROSSING THE MANGROVE by Maryse Conde (Penguin £9.99, 192 pp)


by Maryse Conde (Penguin £9.99, 192 pp)

Enter a steamy tropical village in Guadeloupe, where underneath the swaying bamboo trees lies a dead body.

It’s Sancher, a charismatic vagabond newcomer who made many enemies — and who also made mothers of his many adoring girl fans.

At the wake, each person recalls Sancher’s secretiveness, telling various stories of colour prejudice, disillusionment, rum-sozzled wife-beatings, tarnished love, malignant forest spirits and ‘the smell of calamity’.

Mysterious, scary Sancher was loved and hated and many villagers had reason to wish him dead. But one common theme emerges from all their stories, and that is how small communities — all small communities — spark spite and fear of strangers.

Dazzling forest images —banana plantations, flashing parakeets, fluttering bats, wild orchids and seduction among the ferns — remain imprinted on the mind.


by F. M. Mayor (Persephone £13, 336 pp)

Tissues at the ready . . . Dutiful Mary, 35, is plain and devoted to her fusty, scholarly and widowed father.

Love blossoms between Mary and the new clergyman, Mr Herbert, until, alas, he is bewitched by a frivolous young beauty whom he weds. Disaster.

The wife is shallow, vulgar and horse-mad and has no respect for Herbert. Her noisy, vacuous friends invade the house, joking about religion and giggling during a church service. Bored, she skedaddles abroad, has an affair, becomes smitten with a terrible ailment and returns, contrite, to decent, forgiving Herbert.

He begs gentle Mary (aching with unrequited love) to be a constant companion to the suffering invalid.

Will Herbert realise he married the wrong woman? Will Mary take her one secret kiss to the grave? A profound, heartbreaking masterpiece.

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