Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Russell Banks has exhibited an astonishingly imaginative range throughout his
distinguished career as a novelist, and his uniquely realistic American voice,
on display in such modern classics as Rule of the Bone and Continental
Drift, continues to shine in this latest effort. Fans and newcomers alike will be
rewarded by his incisive eye for character and his ability to deliver a
relentless and engaging narrative -- always in the service of his inimitable
The Darling is Hannah Musgrave's story, told emotionally and convincingly
years later by Hannah herself. A political radical and member of the Weather
Underground, Hannah has fled America to West Africa, where she and her Liberian
husband become friends and colleagues of Charles Taylor, the notorious warlord
and now ex-president of Liberia. When Taylor leaves for the United States in an
effort to escape embezzlement charges, he's immediately placed in prison.
Hannah's encounter with Taylor in America ultimately triggers a series of events
whose momentum catches Hannah's family in its grip and forces her to make a
Set in Liberia and the United States from 1975 through 1991, The Darling is a
political-historical thriller -- reminiscent of Greene and Conrad -- that
explodes the genre, raising serious philosophical questions about terrorism,
political violence, and the clash of races and cultures.
What is the significance of the title, The Darling?
Hannah Musgrave spends much of her life in the US and Liberia under an
alias, Dawn Carrington. She recalls that for a time as a child, she insisted
on being known as "Scout," and she feels that Woodrow has two
separate lives: one in Freetown, and one in Fuama. How does identity play
out in The Darling? What did the novel make you think about personality
could you only have lived the life you have, or do we each contain
"If humans, like the rest of the animals, could not speak, we would
all live together in peace, devouring one another solely out of necessity
and instinct, our positions in the food chain nicely balanced by need and
numbers. If we were as speechless as my collies on the farm or the hens and
sheep and the geese, if we barked or baa'd or clucked or if like the chimps
we could only hoot and holler and otherwise had to depend on body language,
we would not kill one another or any other animal solely for the pleasure on
it. The power of speech is the speech of power. Vows of silence are pledges
to peaceableness. Silence is indeed golden, and a golden age would be
silent." Do you agree?
Charles Taylor and Samuel Doe are real people as well as characters in The
Darling and at one point John Kerry gets a mention, having gone on a
rafting trip with Hannah's parents. How does Russell Banks meld the historic
and the fictional in this novel? Did you find its combination of the factual
and imaginary persuasive or unsettling, or both?
How are Hannah's "dreamers" important to her and to the novel as
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Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Harper Perennial.
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