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The Final Passage

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Like the Caribbean island it describes, this novel of a young black woman's abandonment of and eventual return to the West Indies at times loses its sense of history, grows complacent in its attitude to suffering. At his best, Phillips ( Higher Ground ) here displays talent for the telling glimpse, for sketching personal meanings of oppression, racism, sexism and poverty. With clarity and deep feeling he depicts a bridegroom's brutality, the shock of a slum tenement, a London street radiating hatred of ``coloureds.'' Rare moments of friendship, pleasure and triumph gleam all the brighter in this dingy atmosphere. But these instances fail to liberate the novel from its yoke pk of repetitious descriptions of familiar tasks and unnecessary summaries of events already described. The author supplies flimsy, unconvincing reasons why Leila, the heroine, should give up a devoted suitor for a man with a genius for abuse, or suffer through lonely months in England without ever speaking to another West Indian woman. Phillips neglects Leila's role in orchestrating her own life, producing instead fragments of experience which do not cohere. (Feb.)

This novel confirms Phillips ( Higher Ground , LJ 8/89) as a writer to be reckoned with, someone able to create simple but powerful images that linger in the mind. Leila is a young West Indian woman seeking something more than the ``stern predictability'' of island existence. She emigrates to England in an attempt to revive a failing marriage and to provide a better life for her baby, but her hopes prove unrealistic, her marriage continues to disintegrate, and as winter sets in she finds herself ``growing paler day by day. But she was more coloured than ever before, and not shame exactly, but feelings of inadequacy prevented her from looking in the mirror.'' What the reader sees in the mirror is a woman, a people, stripped by their colonial experience of their sense of self. Winner of England's Malcolm X Award, this book may seem a bit alien to the mainstream American audience but nonetheless would be a worthwhile purchase for academic and metropolitan libraries.-- David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.

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