Jun 2012. 288 p. Penguin, paperback, $15.00. (9780143121015).
Kohler’s ninth novel teems with deception, passion, and suspense, thanks to her finely realized characters whose desires and flaws urge the sometimes predictable action forward. The story unfolds in 1978 Paris, where Dawit, a young, penniless Ethiopian, chances upon the chic M., a hugely famous, wealthy, older French author. Her immediate lust for the handsome, intelligent foreigner solidifies after he shares his fantastic story—his royal blood, his family’s suffering at the hands of the Derg, a military junta, and his horrific journey to Paris. M. extends an invitation Dawit accepts, thus transforming him from beggar to chooser. As the sexagenarian’s obsession with her young lover swells, his adoration wanes as he becomes infatuated with the married Enrico. Jealousy surges, and irreversible mistakes reveal that Dawit’s free entrée into M.’s world of elegance has come at a price too great, leaving him potentially more impoverished than ever. Though the ending may be too tidy for some readers, fans of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels will savor this study of class disparity, human psychology, and moral questions.
— Katharine Fronk