Sunday, September 4, 2011

"The Civilized World"

Susi Wyss's fiction is influenced by her twenty-year career managing women's health programs in Africa, where she lived for more than eight years. She holds a B.A. from Vassar, an M.P.H. from Boston University, and an M.A. in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Civilized World, her first book, and reported the following:
The stories in The Civilized World are primarily set in Africa, and follow five women—two from Ghana and three from the U.S.—as their lives intersect in different configurations and as two of the characters, Adjoa and Janice, deal with the fallout of a shared tragedy. Page 69 falls in the middle of the book’s title story, in which Janice returns to the Central African Republic twelve years after she served there as a Peace Corps volunteer. She has just visited the remote Dzangha-Sangha Park with her fiancĂ©, Bruce, a British aid worker. Before leaving in a car for the capital, they have an argument that ends with Bruce telling Janice to “stop talking out of your arse.” Seated next to their driver while Bruce sits in back, Janice watches the passing countryside for hours, ruminating over their argument, only to discover—once she’s ready to proffer an olive branch—that Bruce has been blissfully sleeping the whole time she’s been stewing over their argument. On page 69, Bruce’s apparent indifference to her feelings prompts Janice to reconsider why she agreed to let him travel with her:
When she’d hinted to Rena that this trip might be a litmus test, Rena had stared at her for several seconds. “He works for a group that supports orphans, Janice. He sounds like a great guy.” Was Janice imagining it or was Rena talking slower than usual, like a grade-school teacher spelling something out to her student?

“If you’re serious about wanting a family,” Rena continued, “you’ll have to accept that there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship, or a perfect man.”

Janice thought of Rena’s husband whom she’d met by the Sofitel pool on a recent Saturday: a squat, balding man who worked for the State Department and had complained loudly about the poolside service. Rena had certainly followed her own advice.
Page 69 reflects a recurring pattern in the book: while the female characters deliberate about what happens to them and agonize over how to act in response, the male characters seem to go through life oblivious and unburdened. Only over the course of time—and after many shared moments at Adjoa’s beauty parlor, the Precious Brother Salon—do these women learn to ease their burdens by drawing from their inner strength as well as by relying on each other.
Learn more about the book and author at her website and Facebook page.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue