Cover image for Hello to the cannibals : a novel
Hello to the cannibals : a novel
Bausch, Richard, 1945-
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First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, [2002]

Physical Description:
661 pages ; 24 cm
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"My heart stopped peacefully, its beating grew slow and weak, and then just -- stopped. I died young. There is, really, only a little to tell."

And so ended, in 1900, the short but remarkable life of explorer and writer Mary Henrietta Kingsley, most of which was spent caring for her ailing mother, and attending to the business of her world-wandering father. But the moment she was unencumbered, she set out on her own journey of discovery. Blithely ignoring the narrowly circumscribed roles and rules for a young woman of her day, she traveled alone to West Africa, and went to places no European had ever been.

"Oh, silent friend, if you ever come to read this ... I am in Africa. Soon I will be walking inland, heading to places unknown."

It is almost a hundred years later, on her fourteenth birthday, that Lily Austin first hears the name of Mary Kingsley, the only female face in a book full of male adventurers. That night, as an ice storm rages outside, something awful and unexpected befalls Lily; and this is why, as she matures into a young woman, it is to the writings of Kingsley that she returns again and again for solace and comfort -- which she finds, especially, in a secret cache of intimate letters Kingsley wrote to an unnamed woman in the distant future. Lily, the child of professional actors, begins to write a play about Kingsley.

"When they buried me at sea, off the coast of South Africa, the strangest thing happened. My coffin wouldn't sink. It floated away from the ship ... Imagine that. I was still sailing the seas, even in death. I was wandering away."

On the surface, Lily Austin's life could not be more different from Mary Kingsley's. And yet, working on the play, she finds in her subject's wit and resourcefulness the inspiration -- the bravery -- she needs to navigate the complicated waters of intimacy and betrayal, kindness and love.

A triumph of the imagination, Hello to the Cannibals is Richard Bausch's most dazzling and beautifully crafted novel to date.

Author Notes

Richard Bausch was born in Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1945. After serving in the U.S. Air Force as a survival instructor, he entered George Mason University, from which he received a B.A. in 1974. He then earned an M.F.A. degree from the University of Iowa and worked as a singer and comedian while writing fiction. He became a professor of English at George Mason University in 1980.

His work includes the novels Real Presence, I Don't Care If I Never Get Back, The Last Good Time, Mr. Field's Daughter, and Violence. He has also published two collections of short stories, Spirits and Other Stories and The Fireman's Wife and Other Stories. He was shortlisted for the 2015 Bad S-x in Fiction Award. for his title Before, During, After.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Bausch, an insightful and versatile novelist and short story writer, is a master at charting the tides of intimacy and estrangement that rise and fall within marriages and between parents and children, themes he dramatizes on an epic scale in his most ambitious, compulsively readable, and deeply pleasurable novel to date. Working in two time frames without sacrificing his proclivity for sensory detail, subtle emotional shifts, or electrifying dialogue, Bausch entwines the tales of two strong women, one imaginary, one historical. Lily, a precocious late-twentieth-century American, becomes fascinated with Mary Kingsley, the nineteenth-century British explorer, pioneering social anthropologist, and writer, after seeing her photograph in a book. A moody college drop-out, Lily marries an irredeemably unhappy man, and, already pregnant, moves into his mother's tragically dysfunctional Mississippi household, where she finds refuge in writing a play about Kingsley. Mary emerges as a forthright, courageous, yet lonely woman of immense intellect, compassion, and resolve, dutiful if sharp-tongued at home and positively scandalous in Africa, where she confidently traverses territories previously unexplored by Europeans. Mary's high adventures and humanitarian valor are tough competition for Lily's oppressive family woes, but Bausch brings artistry, empathy, and passion to every page in this radiant and transporting novel, in which love proves to be the most mysterious and treacherous realm of all. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Two women who write-Lily Austin, a young wife living in Oxford, Miss., in the early 1990s, and Mary Kingsley, the real-life 1890s explorer and author of Travels in West Africa-are the dual protagonists of this novel by acclaimed short-story writer Bausch. Lily, the daughter of two Washington, D.C., actors, leaves college-and her best friend, Dominic, to whom she loses her virginity just before he realizes he is gay-to marry Tyler Harrison, her roommate Sheri Galatierre's half brother. The couple move to Mississippi and live briefly with the Galatierres, a wealthy, complicated, enveloping family. At first their stay is blissful, but when Lily tells Tyler that she is pregnant, he turns strangely distant. His explanation for his behavior, which comes just before the baby is born, threatens their marriage; meantime, a terrible accident devastates the whole Galatierre clan. Throughout it all, Lily is writing a play about Mary Kingsley, which makes for an uneasy segue to Kingsley's life. Kingsley is writing a diary addressed to an unknown future reader, through which readers are granted glimpses of the Kingsley family (particularly her favored but incompetent brother Charley), and Kingsley's travels-first to the Canary Islands, then to West Africa. Kingsley, a cult figure, is a tempting subject for fictional rendering, but devotees may take issue at Bausch's portrait of her, which leaves out much of her biting wit and casual savagery. Lily herself is a curiously static character, changing little from start to finish, though her relationship with the volatile Tyler is convincingly charged. The novel's unwieldiness can make it a laborious read, but a number of very good, lively scenes-particularly those involving the Galatierre family-lighten the journey. (Sept.) Forecast: Bausch's novels have never been as consistently lauded as his short stories, and this novel may get the usual mixed reviews, but strong backing by HarperCollins-including a five-city author tour-should help sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Newly married, pregnant, and living far from home with her hard-drinking Southern in-laws, Lily Austin escapes the humiliations and disappointments of her circumscribed life by reading everything she can find about the intrepid Victorian explorer Mary Kingsley. She writes Kingsley imaginary letters and eventually starts a stage play about her titled Hello to the Cannibals. Presumably, the play will be Lily's ticket out. Mary Kinglsey nursed her dying mother for decades and never left Liverpool until she was in her thirties, but she later traveled alone throughout West Africa, astonishing everyone she met with her bravery and sense of humor. Her travel memoirs brought instant celebrity in Great Britain, but she only felt truly alive in Africa, away from family and friends. Kingsley's story is undeniably powerful, and Bausch (In the Night Season) is clearly invigorated by it, to the extent that his vivid Kingsley chapters completely overwhelm the tepid Lily Austin story. This overly long novel is really two full-length books stitched together, and one is much more interesting than the other. For larger collections of historical fiction.-Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Hello to the Cannibals Toward the end of her junior year of college, her parents separated, and that summer, the hottest summer anyone could remember, she heard them discuss their dissolving marriage individually, to different people, in distressingly composed, matter-of-fact voices. They might as well have been talking about refinancing a mortgage. With her, they were mutually reserved, polite, careful not to criticize each other. They spoke of reciprocal respect, of what was best for everyone; and it seemed that no rancor existed between them. Indeed, once it came to the final arrangements, they both appeared rather self-satisfied for having accomplished everything with a minimum of pathological scenes. Even the lawyers called it amicable. In Lily Austin's mind, there was nothing about splitting a household in two that could be called anything of the sort. Her roommate, Sheri Galatierre, attempted to divert her, asking her along to parties and other social events. Lily mostly demurred. As it had been for years, now, she was troubled by the company of strangers, though she didn't express it that way. She didn't know, really, how to say what she wanted.Sheri had a way of getting down into her sorrow with her that made her feel worse, though the other woman obviously meant to help. Dominic Martinez also tried to distract her, being goofy and chattering, clowning for her. He had come to the university that year, having transferred in from North Carolina. He'd walked up to her after one of the performances of the drama department, and said, "Ronda Seiver's party." It had startled Lily, and for a moment she hadn't recognized him. "You got the book that had the lady explorer in it." "Dominic?" she said.He bowed, exactly as he had that night at Ronda's house.They had become rather like brother and sister, since then. Dominic sometimes refused to indulge her. He would tell her to grow up and stop twisting her own knife in herself. Strangely, that helped some.Yet in the hours when she was alone, nothing quite reached the place where she was hurting. The facts hurt; the knowledge of what had lately transpired between her parents caused a deep, unreachable, continual ache. She couldn't shake the old, terrible, familiar sense of having been betrayed. And so while everyone around her spoke in terms of romance, and while it was in all the books and the plays she was reading - and last spring she had played the most romantic of parts, Rosalind, in As You Like It - Lily had decided that the whole thing irony, had an affair with someone he worked with. He spoke about falling in love. He used the phrase, telling Lily's mother about it, confessing to her that it had been going on for more than a year, crying idiotically and begging her to forgive him. Lily's mother, who had felt the weight of her own increasing estrangement from him, went into an almost surreptitious six-week-long depression, then gathered strength and called a lawyer. Everything was decided with an efficiency, a courtesy, that Lily deplored. It was as if her parents had decided to close a long-running play in which they had performed the lead roles. This was in 1988. Bush and Dukakis were running for Reagan's soon-to-be vacated office, and Lily, entering her last year of college, found that she couldn't care less. In the fall, back at school, she went through the strangeness of writing to and communicating with her parents separately, and of having to speak to the young woman, a set designer, to whom her father was now married (a civil ceremony in Maryland, three days after the divorce was final, in late July). The strain worked on her in unexpected ways: she had experienced episodes of panic and sleeplessness. And when she could sleep at all she had nightmares - one, quite recently, about her fourteenth birthday. She was more upset about how it made her feel than she was about the nightmare itself; inexplicably, it was worse waking from it than being in it. She had registered for double the normal hours, having lost a semester when she switched majors, and wanting to graduate on time. Her teachers liked her ability to lose herself in whatever role she tried, and others commented favorably on her performances. When she had played Rosalind, there was a certain pleasure in being recognized. But she was already discovering that she had no taste for being in front of people. There was something in herself that she defied by continuing to perform, though her sense of this was visceral, flying in the face of her own increasingly introverted feelings. Her discomfiture after the performances, her absence at most of the celebrations and cast parties and social gatherings, had become the subject of talk among the other members of the drama school. She went her own way; and people began to leave her alone. Even Dominic and Sheri kept a certain respectful distance at times. The panic she managed mostly to keep at bay, though trying to decide what she might do after college, after all this relentless work, was cause for anxiety, too. The anxiety, whatever its source, plagued her. When one was suffering through this kind of distraction, it was nearly impossible to concentrate on memorizing large masses of text. It was difficult enough just getting through assigned reading. On one of the last football weekends of her senior year - a crisp, breezy Saturday with the smell of burning leaves in the air and a pleasant coolness that seemed a kind of mingling of the fading summer and the coming winter - Sheri cajoled and begged her into accompanying her to the game. The Cavaliers won big, though since she didn't know anything about football she couldn't make much out of the confusion of sun-reflecting, bright-clad, helmeted bodies slamming into each other on the earth-churned grass. But she discovered that she liked the spectacle, and spent much of the game watching everyone else's happy reactions, surprised by how pleasing that was. "What an amazing thing," she said to Sheri, as the game ended. "That was fun." Sheri, whose speech was punctuated by what Lily thought of as a sort of aural italics, said, " You know, a couple of these boys might end up rich. Does Dominic like football?" "We don't talk about it, but maybe that's me." "I don't much like it, but I go." They strolled over to one of the post-game celebrations, at a small apartment in the center of the campus. People talked too loud, trying to be heard over each other, recounting the high points of the victory. Their enthusiasm made Lily conscious, by contrast, of her own lack of school spirit. Sheri said, "That's the first game you ever saw? You never even saw a game in high school? No. She turned and, with a wave of her bony, hard-knuckled little hand, addressed the others in the room. "Everybody, this girl has never been to a damn football game. Today was the first game in her whole damn life. I mean, can yew imagine?" And out of the group, a young man emerged, stepping forward to say that he could imagine it: he had never been to a football game, either, including today's game; the truth was, he didn't like the sport. Several people hooted good-naturedly at him, and a girl in an athletic-lettered sweater that hung lion her like a robe put a paper party blower in his face and blew it. He was built like someone who could play football-broad across the chest, with beautifully defined musculature in his arms and shoulders. Lily gazed into his hazel eyes and her embarrassment changed; she saw in them an incitement to stand with him, separate from these others, with their banners and their noisemakers and their letter jackets and sweaters. Sheri started to say something, and Lily interrupted her, speaking only to him. "My name is Lily." He extended his hand. "Tyler." On an impulse she stepped inside his offered handshake, stood on her toes, and kissed him full on the mouth. He seemed surprised, then kissed back. Everyone was watching them. "Well," Sheri said, "can yew believe this country? Happiness just walks up and says howdy." "Let's go out on the balcony," he said with a grin. Lily took his hand, and there were whoops from the others. It was an exhibition; she felt the colour rising to her face and neck, walking with him towards the sliding glass door leading out of the room. She told herself, as they stepped onto the balcony overlooking Rugby Drive, that in the morning he would be elsewhere, and so would she. He said, "We've got them all talking now." "I guess so." She felt a little stab of embarrassment at the dullness of her answer, and she tried to smile at him, feeling the gesture as a kind of spasm in her face. "Are you cold?" She pulled her sweater up from her waist, where it had been tied, and put it on, accidentally striking him on the side of the face with her elbow. He said, "Whoops." "Oh, God-did I hurt you?" "I think I'll make it," he said, with a good, soft laugh. A murmurous baritone music was in it; it calmed her. From where they stood, looking beyond the grass field, they could see cars waiting at a lights, turn signals flashing. He gazed at her, and she was aware of the boniness of her body under her jeans. She had felt skinny and unattractive, yet just now, for a brief few seconds, it didn't seem to matter. Hello to the Cannibals . Copyright © by Richard Bausch. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.