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Book Review: 'Submergence'


The writer J.M. Ledgard leads multiple lives. He's a journalist and covers East Africa for the Economist, but Ledgard is also a novelist. Here's Alan Cheuse with a review of his latest book, "Submergence."

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: James More, a British secret agent, has been captured by a Somalian affiliate of al-Qaeda, a peripatetic fringe group that keeps moving him back and forth across the mostly barren terrain of northeastern Africa, trying to hide from drone attacks and make jihad at the same time.

More, free in imagination only, has thoughts that move him back and forth between the excruciating circumstances of his captivity - little water, less food, chained or tied most of the day - and the memory of a brief affair, less than a week in time, in a hotel on the cold coast of Atlantic-facing France.

There, he met a brilliant and worldly bio-mathematician named Danielle Flinders. She studies currents and the luminescent creatures of the ocean floor. In the present moment, More sinks deeper and deeper into the despair of his captivity, while Danielle participates in a dive that takes her to the utmost depths of the known Atlantic.

This summary may give you some sense of the material, but only excerpts can suggest the way character, setting, and language come together in this novel in an extraordinary fusion of science and lyricism.

(Reading) The night in Nairobi is like a river, More says at one point in his tryst with Danielle. What do you mean, she asks him. It's deep and treacherous, he tells her, in the way of African rivers, you can't see into it, you have no idea where the crocodiles are, or where the rapids run. It has its own luster.

As does this darkly gleaming novel about love, deserts, oceans, lust and terror.

CORNISH: Alan Cheuse reviewing the novel "Submergence" by J.M. Ledgard.


CORNISH: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alan Cheuse died on July 31, 2015. He had been in a car accident in California earlier in the month. He was 75. Listen to NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamburg's retrospective on his life and career.
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