During the mid seventies Ruth travels to the tropical jungle of Africa's Ivory Coast to begin her service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She meets Ivorian school teacher, Kwassi, and finds herself unable to resist his charms. Little does Ruth know about Kwassi's future as tribal leader and inheritor of the secret healing power of the Sekepone. While she fights to understand the complex web of his culture's magic and mystery, Kwassi becomes a victim of his own spells and falls more deeply in love with Ruth.
As lovers, they spiral into a web of contradiction and clashes of culture. As individuals, they struggle to accept their separate destinies before it is too late.
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This is a story that will particularly appeal to women, the Baby Boomer generation, and those who enjoy
adventure and suspense. A page turner!
Ruth was on her way home when she thought she saw a ghost. Then she realized it was Kwassi, almost invisible in the quiet night. Now that her search was successful, she could not think of one word to say. All she knew was that she wanted to be with him, that Kwassi had become unforgettable, like the souvenir in Mamadou's question. They walked back together in the starlight and sat down on the shadowed veranda outside Leslie's window.
"I've been wrong," Kwassi whispered. "There's no hope for us. We are as different as black and white."
"Don't leave me!" Ruth cried.
She clung to his neck, and they rolled onto the rough boards. Then his heavy darkness came down upon her, and there was nothing but night.
Marly Swick, author of Evening News (Little, Brown, and Company)
Striking and memorable, elegant and economical, Souvenirs brings to life the Ivory Coast as seen through the eyes of a young American Peace Corps volunteer just a year removed from her college sorority in Wisconsin. Julia Lauer-Cheenne's vibrant, sensual prose and her extraordinarily vivid and precise details, generate heat -- a shimmering blaze of relentless sun and intense passion. The characters seem to live on even after you read the final sentence.
Paul Eggers, author of How the Water Feels (Southern Methodist University Press)
In supple and spare prose, Lauer-Cheenne dissects what it means to be both in love and caught between cultures. Souvenirs is that rarest of books, powerfully exploring our shared humanity while at the same time acknowledging the deep rifts that divide us. Knowledgeable, lyric, and always a pleasure to read, Souvenirs is Peace Corps writing at its finest. I highly recommend it.
Ladette Randolph, author of This is Not the Tropics (University of Wisconsin Press)
Julia Lauer-Cheenne has written an exquisite story of a doomed love affair. Told in spare and elegant prose, Souvenirs is set against the lush backdrop of a small Ivory Coast village where Ruth, the female protagonist, a naive Peace Corps volunteer, is unwittingly caught between forces desiring progress and those committed to tribal customs. What Ruth cannot know is that Kwassi, the man she loves, is central to the latter, and that their love at the heart of the conflict is bigger than both of them. Souvenirs is a wonderful debut, and its publication sends a signal to the literary world that this is a writer to watch.
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