BOOK REVIEW: Maksik treads political turmoil in 'A Marker'
Glen Young's book review (June 13, 2013)
These blunt words echo in the ears of the destitute Jacqueline, Alexander Maksik's exiled protagonist in his new novel "A Marker to Measure Drift."
The eldest daughter of a well healed white family in Charles Taylor's Liberia, she has survived the political and military turmoil by fleeing. What exactly she has fled, however, is largely the subject of Maksik's story.
The fate of her parents and 16-year-old sister Saifa is teased out in fragments, clouded both by Jacqueline's desire to forget, as well as her need to understand.
Empathy is the critical element in any story. Readers won't invest in a character, real or imagined, unless the fates conspire in turmoil.
Maksik understands this, imbuing Jacqueline with a history painted by affluence, though her present predicament earns her the immediate benefit of the doubt.
Indeed, her mother tells her, "And maybe that was the way to live. Always in fear of ruin."
For Jacqueline, however, the razor's edge between ruin and renewal is sometimes unrecognizable. Maksik explains, "She was having a difficult time distinguishing between madness and memory."
But it isn't only her family and her history that trouble Jacqueline's nights. It is also the possibility of her future, a future she has mortgaged with distance. Her love Bernard is also gone, though she cannot say for certain if it is permanent. "She could see him searching for her. She could see him searching for the woman who had written all those letters."
Bernard, her "wise and world-weary journalist," understood the troubles; understood better than her entrenched father, that whether it was Taylor of the LURD, Liberia's history might also be its future, both written in blood.
Details of the horror are teased out, fogged by the quotidian concerns of food and shelter in her exile home, where she lives in caves or abandoned buildings, subsisting on handouts and leftovers.
Adrift in Greece, Jacqueline leans only on her stamina, and the occasional croissant from a kind shopkeeper.
Maksik feeds out early detail in stingy ways, the omniscient narration clouded by Jacqueline's need to wipe clean the possibility of complicity in her family.
Santorini serves well as Jacqueline's new outpost. Surrounded by the ancient ruins of mythological ether, she grapples to understand the ruin that has become her recent past. And just as the fables of Theras outline the rocky outcropping she now occupies, Jacqueline's new revelations punctuate what the world knows of Taylor and his occupation.
Regardless the story's arc, and at times that arc frustratingly flat, there is no empathy when the result is expected or hoped for. Maksik is careful to nurse his tale on a human scale, so whatever political commentary is made simply, without adornment or hyperbole. Jacqueline is both comforted and confronted. She must choose which to pursue.
As she works to right her present condition, Jacqueline fixes on a marker to measure drift.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Glen Young teaches English at Petoskey High School. His column, Literate Matters, appears the second and fourth Thursday of each month. Young can be reached at P.O. Box 174, Petoskey, Mich. 49770.