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Marlene Nourbese Philip
Stratford (Ont.), Mercury Press, 1991. 75pp, paper, $10.95
ISBN 0-920544-88-6. CIP

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up

Reviewed by donalee Moulton.

Volume 20 Number 2
1992 March

As a black woman, Marlene Nourbese Philip is all too well aware of how black people have been silenced. Our history dismisses them; our day-to-day existence rarely acknowledges their positive presence. As a woman who cannot escape the pervasive reach of western culture, Philip is also well aware of the famous Dr. David Livingstone and his "contributions" to civilization. In her poetic novel, Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence, Philip follows her Livingstone on his historic odyssey and journeys within herself to break the chain of silence.

On the first page of her novel, Philip paints for the reader a clear, crisp picture of the Dr. David Livingstone that is her reality:

David Livingstone, Dr. David Livingstone, 1813-73 - Scottish, not English, and one of the first Europeans to cross the Kalahari - with the help of Bushmen; was shown the Zambezi by the indigenous African, "discov­ered" it and renamed it. Victoria Falls. Then he set out to "discover" the source of the Nile and was himself "discovered" by Stanley - "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" And History. Stanley and Livingstone - white fathers of the continent. Of silence.

Philip forces readers to re-examine that which they have unthinkingly taken for granted. Facts melt with the warm - and sometimes angry -breath of Philip's words across the page. But she goes beyond correcting our astigmatism, she puts the chart before her own eyes and stands up to the test: "In my second dream I am huge and heavy, blown up like a sow about to farrow - the fruit of his word .... Wailing I try to birth the monstrous product of his word and my silence - conceived in the silence of my own, my very own womb."

As in most journeys, the territory varies. Here in Looking for Livingstone, Philip varies not only the subject matter (connected by a firm itinerary) but the structure and form of her words. Throughout the eighty-page novel there are poems, dream sequences, journal entries and prose pieces. All are thought­ful ways of making readers aware of how history is created. And how it is denied.

donalee Moulton, Halifax, N.S.
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