Liliane: Resurrection of the Daughter by Ntozake Shange

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Liliane: Resurrection of the Daughter [Paperback]
Ntozake Shange
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin; First Edition edition (October 11, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0312644108
ISBN-13: 978-0312644109

“I travel a lot,” Liliane tells us early on. “I look at men and take some home or leave the country, borders have never intimidated me. My passport is in order and I carry letters of credit, perfume, four fancy dresses and six nightgowns. I always sleep naked alone at least once a week. I pray and say hail marys by some window at dusk. It’s always best for me to deal with the sacred when I’m naked. For me it has something to do with humility.”

Meet Liliane, easily among the most exuberant, most grittily real characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering in a novel. A spirited artist troubled by her parents’ separation in childhood, and by the killing of a friend by an abusive lover, Liliane’s life is revealed to us through the monologues of those presently or previously close to her, illuminating both her extraordinary character and the climates of racial and sexual politics through which they have all lived. From miscegenation to the March on Washington, through virginity and feminism, the voices of her lovers, friends and sometimes Liliane herself take the reader through a rich, sometimes brutal plot landscape. (Watch out for the chapter in which Liliane begins to fantasize about a man she’s never met, obsessively trying to capture him in sketches, sleeping beneath six-foot long metal dreads she thinks might be his – it’s quite remarkable.)

To be able to answer her own questions, Liliane turns to her art. When she cannot even begin to ask the questions she needs answers for, Liliane seeks her psychoanalyst. These segments, which come between chapters and are stripped-down and immediate in nature, are full of challenging, well-crafted dialogue that were no doubt honed on the Obie award-winning Shange’s background in theatre.

Also noteworthy is how, unlike for instance Julia Alvarez’s ¡Yo! (at the end of which the reader sympathizes with every character but the one the book is supposed to be about), a novel which is told mostly through the multiple perspectives of various secondary characters could paint so captivating a portrait of its intended protagonist.

Liliane has a succulence normally associated with fruit, but without the requisite seeds and stickiness that tend to come with writing of the exotic variety. The prose is sensuous, musical, almost exquisite even at its most starkly disturbing.

All that being said, this novel isn’t for everybody. A lack of interest in the particular social issues and periods of the novel, the various references (“I heard Eric Dolphy in his eyes”) and even the rhythm of the language could well throw some off. But for anyone looking for a book with a strong, multifaceted woman of colour as its central character, or just some really unique writing, this is it.

***

Review by Sharanya Manivannan

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