A mesmerizing novel of love and nostalgia set in the vast spaces of contemporary East Africa.
Romantic, often resonantly ironic, moving and wise, Rules of the Wild transports us to a landscape of unsurpassed beauty even as it gives us a sharp-eyed portrait of a closely knit tribe of cultural outsiders: the expatriates living in Kenya today. Challenged by race, by class, and by a longing for home, here are "safari boys" and samaritans, reporters bent on their own fame, travelers who care deeply about elephants but not at all about the people of Africa. They all know each other. They meet at dinner parties, they sleep with each other, they argue about politics and the best way to negotiate their existence in a place where they don't really belong.
At the center is Esme, a beautiful young woman of dazzling ironies and introspections, who tells us her story in a voice both passionate and self-deprecating. Against a paradoxical backdrop of limitless physical freedom and escalating civil unrest, Esme struggles to make sense of her own place in Africa and of her feelings for the two men there whom she loves--Adam, a second-generation Kenyan who is the first to show her the wonders of her adopted land, and Hunter, a British journalist sickened by its horrors.
Rules of the Wild evokes the worlds of Isak Dinesen, Beryl Markham, and Ernest Hemingway. It explores unforgettably our infinite desire for a perfect elsewhere, for love and a place to call home. It is an astonishing literary debut.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
The voice of Italian-born narrator Esme, which seduces the reader into the world of this intelligent first novel, is sad, tense, darkly foreboding, secretly desperate. From the beginning, we know that this will be a story of missed opportunities, failed love affairs, unfulfilled longings. Juxtaposed with the tale of a woman trying to find herself is a trenchant and striking picture of contemporary Africa. Esme flees Italy for Kenya after the death of her charismatic father, a poet, and is grateful to find security in an affair with idealistic safari operator Adam. Africa initially seems a paradise to Esme. She is welcomed into the inbred white community of Nairobi, where alcohol and drugs are routine pleasures, everyone has slept with everyone else and the colonial attitude toward blacks has not changed. When she meets a burning social conscience, restless Esme recognizes a kindred spirit, and their passionate affair threatens to destroy the only haven she has known. Hunter has covered the carnage in Somalia and Rwanda, and his insistence that Esme acknowledge the "real" Africa the poverty in which most Africans live, the despoliation of the environment unsettles her already fragile emotional balance. In the end, she will be caught between two worlds, two lovers and two visions of the future. Marciano's passion for the spectacular landscape of Africa is almost palpable. Her character analysis is often profound as she delicately conveys the moral complexities of social and personal issues. Her Africa is a paradox in every sense: beautiful and tragic, luxuriant and rotting, paradise and hell, Esme's nemesis and her salvation. This resonantly ironic, beautifully observed novel announces an impressive new talent. 50,000 first printing; major ad/promo; author tour; rights sold in Germany, Sweden, Italy, Denmark, France, Holland and Brazil; simultaneous Random House audio.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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September 05, 1999
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Excerpt from Rules of the Wild by Francesca Marciano
Chapter One To wake up at first light, a flea in the prairie of rock and sand each morning, is to realize that one's own importance is something one highly overrates. One was mad, all right, after a year of it. One sees that now, looking back. Gerald Hanley In a way everything here is always secondhand. You will inherit a car from someone who has decided to leave the country, which you will then sell to one of your friends. You will move into a new house where you have already been when someone else lived there and had great parties at which you got incredibly drunk, and someone you know will move in when you decide to move out. You will make love to someone who has slept with all your friends. There will never be anything brand-new in your life. It's a big flea market; sometimes we come to sell and sometimes to buy. When you first came here you felt fresh and new, everybody around you was vibrant, full of attention, you couldn't imagine ever getting used to this place. It felt so foreign and inscrutable. You so much wanted to be part of it, to conquer it, survive it, put your flag up, and you longed for that feeling of estrangement to vanish. You wished you could press a button and feel like you had been here all your life, knew all the roads, the shops, the mechanics, the tricks, the names of each animal and indigenous tree. You hated the idea of being foreign, wanted to blend in like a chameleon, join the group and be accepted for good. Didn't want to be investigated. Your past had no meaning; you only cared about the future. Obviously, you were mad to think you could get away with it without paying a price. It's seven o'clock in the morning, and I smoke my first cigarette with sickening pleasure at the arrivals hall of Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi. She is on the early-morning British Airways flight. Her name is Claire, I have never seen her. I was told that she is blond, long-legged and sexy. She will be looking for me. She has probably been told to watch out for a dark-haired chainsmoker with the look of a psychopath, or at least this is the only honest description that would fit me today. I hate Claire, she is my enemy, even though we have never met. Yet I am here to greet her and welcome her as part of our family, the baboon group whose behaviour I have finally managed to make my own. I guess this is my punishment. She has never lived here before, but she is coming to stay for good. She will eventually learn all the rules and turn into another specimen, like all of us. That is what everyone has to learn in order to survive here. She is coming to live with the man I am in love with, a man I haven't been able to hold on to. Another possession which slipped out of my hands to be snatched up by the next buyer. The tourists start pouring through the gate, pushing squeaking carts loaded with Samsonite suitcases. They all wear funny clothes, as if each one of them had put on some kind of costume to match the ideal self they have chosen to be on this African holiday. The Adventurer, the White Hunter, the Romantic Colonialist, the Surfer. They are all taking a break from themselves. She comes towards me looking slightly lost. I notice her long thin legs, her blond hair pulled tightly into a braid. Her skin is pale, still made up with London fog. She is wearing a flowery dress and a thick blue woolen sweater that makes her look slightly childlike. I wave my hand and she lights up. It's true: she is beautiful. She has destroyed my life. It's like musical chairs, this secondhand game. When the music stops, one of us gets stuck with their bum up in the air. This time it must have been my turn. I steer her cart out of the airport towards my old Landcruiser. "Did you have a good flight?" I try a motherly tone. "Oh God, yes. I slept like a log. I feel great." She smells the air. "Thank you so much for coming