FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When the Devil Smiles at You

by CHARLES R. LARSON

Charles Taylor (the madman of Liberia) has his footprint all over Alexander Maksik’s second novel, A Marker to Measure Drift.  The main character, Jacqueline, whose consciousness narratives the story, has fled Liberia, lucky to get out.  After a flight out of the country with the assistance of her former lover, she’s stranded on a Greek island—left on her own, with little more than a change of clothes in her backpack, starving, confused, hallucinating, on the verge of madness.  Her father was a minister in Taylor’s government, Jacqueline herself worked in the ministry of tourism, and for too long she also admired him.

As she tells an acquaintance late in the story, “I liked him.  I liked him when he was in our home.  I liked him when he brought me pretty boxes of Belgian chocolate.  I liked him when he smiled at me.  But I didn’t know him.  For a very long time, most of my life, I didn’t know what he had done.  And my father pretended not to know what he had done.”  She was still a girl then, but when she was a little older, her insight began to change: “My father was a believer.”  Still later, when she was a teenager in a private school in England, in Cheltenham, her mother warned her, “Stay here….  Now.  After you graduate.  No matter what your father says.  No matter what he offers you.  No matter his promises.  Never come home, JaJa.  Promise me.”

But she returned to Liberia, and her mother was right—horribly right—so right that as Jacqueline walks around the island in the Aegean, confused, searching for food or work, unable to distinguish the past from the present, it is her mother whose voice we also hear.  Mother and daughter carry on a constant dialogue, her mother as super ego, controlling everything Jacqueline does, every move, thought, markerdriftconversation. And although her mother was a control freak, she was right; and since Jacqueline did not heed her warning in the past—do not return to Liberia—she can’t ignore her mother’s gnawing voice much later when she is in Greece.

Jacqueline survives for a time giving foot massages to tourists on the beach, earning a few Euros to keep her going.  She sleeps in a cave.  She thinks about her lover, a journalist, who helped her flee Liberia; her younger sister, Saifa, who was pregnant; her parents, with their conflicting personalities.  She longs for her family, “as they were years ago, a particular version, a version that may have never existed.”   Her thoughts are incoherent; other times lucid, describing an innocent past—before the brutal end that so traumatized her that even in safe territory, Greece, she is afraid to seek help, tell anyone about her ordeal, even ask for food.  Suicide becomes an option—total madness another.  One wonders how many illegals walking around foreign environments have been so brutalized that they can’t even ask for help.

Months into her displacement—when she has little consciousness of time—another young refugee, a woman from Macedonia, takes her to a restaurant for a drink, and the floodgates open up.  With numerous interruptions, pauses, delays and after a fair bit of ouzo, Jacqueline realizes, “The distance between recollection and experience is shortening.  It is difficult to distinguish between memory and storytelling, between storytelling and experience, between the present life and the other.  She is unsure whether there is a difference.  She closes her eyes and tries to separate the filaments, tries to extricate one strand from another.”

“Taylor was the president.  My father’s friend.  My father’s boss.”  And when the revolutionaries attacked Taylor, they also wanted to destroy all of his supporters, the officials (and their families) close to him.  People were killed because of their loyalty to the butcher of Liberia: “murder, torture, rape, sexual slavery, terrorism, looting, the unlawful recruitment of child soldiers under the age of fifteen, the murder and kidnapping of UN peacekeepers in the performance of their duties.”  And the so-called liberators overthrowing Charles Taylor do almost the same.  You probably know the rest of the story.

Alexander Maksik’s A Marker to Measure Drift covers familiar territory—brutal regimes in Africa and the terror they unleash, too often spiraling out of control: a survivor’s tale.  It’s a powerful story in need of judicious cutting, too often belabored in spite of Jacqueline’s catharsis at the end of her rambling.

Alexander Maksik: A Marker to Measure Drift

Knopf, 240 pp., $24.95

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.  Email: clarson@american.edu.

 

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail