Book Review: The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana by Maryse Conde

I got this book as a gift, and I was glad because I had planned to explore more Caribbean authors. I had never heard about the author but reading her bio showed that she is a big deal, and I was eager to dig in.

‘The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana’ is a story about twin brother and sister with almost opposite personalities. Growing up with a single mother in Guadeloupe was hard for both Ivan and Ivana but had more negative effects on Ivan with no father figure or role model to look up to. After their mother finally makes contact with their father after so many years, the twins are sent to live with him in Mali. This opens them up to a lot of new and rather frightening experiences until they are both able to find their way to France. In the end, each twin choose their path, Ivana towards upholding the law as a police officer and Ivan towards self destruction.

Unfortunately, apart from the author’s great writing style, this book didn’t do it for me in terms of the plot and the story as a whole. There were parts especially at the beginning during their early life in Guadeloupe that I enjoyed but as the story progressed, I lost the plot. In a nutshell, I struggled to read and finish this book and I have concluded that this may have been the wrong first book to read by this highly acclaimed author. I hope to explore more of her work in the near future and see how that goes.

Rating: 3 Stars

Published: May 24, 2017

Pages: 368

Genre: Historical Fiction

The Author:

Maryse Condé is a Guadeloupean, French language author of historical fiction, best known for her novel Segu. Maryse Condé was born as Maryse Boucolon at Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, the youngest of eight children. In 1953, her parents sent her to study at Lycée Fénelon and Sorbonne in Paris, where she majored in English. In 1959, she married Mamadou Condé, an Guinean actor. After graduating, she taught in Guinea, Ghana, and Senegal. In 1981, she divorced, but the following year married Richard Philcox, English language translator of most of her novels.

Condé’s novels explore racial, gender, and cultural issues in a variety of historical eras and locales, including the Salem witch trials in I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem and the 19th century Bambara Empire of Mali in Segu.

In addition to her writings, Condé had a distinguished academic career. In 2004 she retired from Columbia University as Professor Emeritus of French. She had previously taught at the University of California, Berkeley, UCLA, the Sorbonne, The University of Virginia, and the University of Nanterre.

In March 2007, Condé was the keynote speaker at Franklin College Switzerland’s Caribbean Unbound III conference, in Lugano, Switzerland.

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