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The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo


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About the Author

Peter Orner has received many honors for his fiction, including the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Goldberg Prize from the Foundation of Jewish Culture, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He lives in San Francisco.Author Location: San Francisco, US


Orner's poetic, episodic examination of the varieties of life at an isolated Catholic primary school deep in the veld of Namibia coheres around the title character, a beautiful guerrilla fighter turned kindergarten teacher. Set in the early 1990s, soon after Namibia won independence from South Africa, this impressive debut novel (after Esther Stories) is mostly narrated by Larry Kaplanski, a young volunteer who leaves Cincinnati, Ohio, to teach English and history at Farm Goas. Orner captures Goas's glacial rhythms, the extraordinary contrast between the desert's night and day, and the community's daily privations, including-for the single male teachers-a lust arising from boredom and loneliness. Mavala Shikongo, the principal's sister-in-law and the object of her colleagues' desires, reluctantly settles at Goas with her illegitimate baby boy, Tomo. Orner punctuates Larry's observations with brief interludes told from the points of view of other inhabitants of the school, and with haunting, cinematic imagery-boys do pull-ups on a huge cross; Mavala and Larry, who become friends and intimates, hold their afternoon trysts on the graves of Boer settlers. These telling snapshots stand in for the larger sociopolitical, cultural and religious issues facing a country emerging from a century of colonization. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

'Fast, sharp and literate' - KIRKUS REVIEWS

In Orner's beautiful debut, Larry Kaplanski, a teacher from Ohio, volunteers at a boys' Catholic primary school in the newly independent Namibia. The climate and landscape in the remote town of Goas are relentless-too hot or too cold, drought-stricken, and barren. Solace comes from the school's collection of characters and the stories they tell one another, stories fraught with both public and private devastation. Mavala Shikongo, a combat veteran who returns to the school to teach, a child unaccountably in her wake, is the irresistible force of gravity in a place occupied by men and boys who, for scarcity, are starving for "woman." But the restless and searching Mavala is not as sure as gravity after all. Author of the short story collection Esther Stories, which received the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Goldberg Prize from the National Foundation of Jewish Culture, Orner is a miraculous writer with a stunning ability to compel the reader softly with ever-increasing increments. Inspired by Orner's own experiences in Namibia, this novel so evokes the place and its people that, by the end of the book, readers will find themselves reluctantly brushing the sandy loam of Goas off their feet to the reverberating voices of its inhabitants. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Jyna Scheeren, Troy P.L., NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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