Excerpt: 'The Story of the Cannibal Woman: A Novel' Maryse Conde's "elegant and musically told novel" follows the story of a widowed painter living in Cape Town after the murder of her husband. Translator Richard Philcocks turned the French novel "into one of the liveliest and loveliest translations of the year," says Alan Cheuse.
NPR logo Excerpt: 'The Story of the Cannibal Woman: A Novel'

Excerpt: 'The Story of the Cannibal Woman: A Novel'

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The Story of the Cannibal Woman: A Novel

By Maryse Conde

Translated by Richard Philcox

Hardcover, 320 pages

List price: $24.00

Change your man and you change your rhythm of life. With Stephen, Roselie always played the same musical score. Allegro ma non troppo. She spent her days practically alone. As early as seven in the morning he would leave for the university with a colleague and neighbor, a Virginia Woolf specialist, author of a remarkable study on Mrs. Dalloway. In his absence she painted without taking note of the passing hours. Around one o'clock Dido called her from the bottom of the stairs, and Roselie interrupted her work to watch her eat a usually copious lunch. Dido had what they call a hearty appetite. She spiced her meals with comments on the harshness of women's condition, the chaos of the world in general, and South Africa in particular, which didn't prevent her from eating up greedily and scraping her plate. Roselie always felt slightly envious in front of this ravenous mouth and its masticating teeth. After a few cups of coffee on the patio, she went back up to her studio while Dido returned to the kitchen, where she noisily loaded the antediluvian dishwasher, bought secondhand at a university sale. Then she went and ironed in the living room while listening to Hugh Masekela. The music whirled, wafted up two flights of stairs, and joined Roselie under the roof. Listening to it, in spite of herself, she ended up knowing every tune like she used to know her father's Afro-Cuban melodies, Rose's love songs, and Salama Salama's reggae music, and she caught herself humming them.

The end of the afternoon brightened up when Stephen came home in another colleague's car, this time a Chaucer specialist. Then tea at the Mount Nelson followed by dinner in a restaurant along the seafront. Always the same one, not because of the food — the fries were greasy and the chicken tasteless, rubbery hormone-fed meat — but because Ted, the owner, an Englishman, was living with Laurence, a black woman. Although Roselie and Laurence sat coldly staring at each other, having absolutely nothing in common — Laurence working in a lingerie shop, preoccupied with thongs and frilly lace underwear, Roselie preoccupied with her painting — Ted and Stephen, who had defied their society's taboo, found themselves drawn closer together like two war veterans back from the front line. As usual Stephen would chatter away. But with Ted he didn't talk about literature or politics. He would comment on the behavior of the royal family. According to him, Princess Diana had been a genuine antipersonnel mine that one of these days Buckingham Palace would step on. Besides, he declared, royalty was destined to be abolished. The prospect saddened Ted. He cherished the Queen and the Queen Mother, hats and hand-bags included. Neither Laurence nor Roselie had an opinion on the question. Moreover, neither Stephen nor Ted asked them for one. In the distance Roselie stared at the glow of Robben Island, which she had never visited and which was constantly calling her. A penal colony turned into a tourist attraction! Its lights winked in the distance, a reminder of a past that stubbornly refused to be transformed.

The Story of the Cannibal Woman: A Novel, Copyright 2007, by Maryse Conde. Reprinted by permission of Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Inc.

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