DREAM COUN­TRY

Texarkana Gazette - - ACCENT - —BY TR­ISHA COLLOPY STAR TRI­BUNE (MIN­NEAPO­LIS)

by Shan­non Gibney; Dut­ton (335 pages, $17.99)

When refugees of Liberia’s civil war be­gan ar­riv­ing in Min­nesota in the 1990s, they en­coun­tered the typ­i­cal chal­lenges of new im­mi­grants, along with some un­ex­pected re­sent­ment from U.S.-born blacks.

Min­neapo­lis writer Shan­non Gibney’s new novel, “Dream Coun­try,” traces the roots of this con­flict, fol­low­ing five gen­er­a­tions of one fam­ily from a Vir­ginia plan­ta­tion to Liberia’s found­ing by freed slaves to a re­verse mi­gra­tion 150 years later dur­ing the coun­try’s bru­tal civil war.

The story opens in Brook­lyn Cen­ter, where 16-year-old Kol­lie is nav­i­gat­ing ado­les­cent tur­bu­lence as he tries to find his foot­ing be­tween cul­tures.

At his large pub­lic high school, he’s ha­rassed by black

stu­dents for be­ing too “jun­gle.” At home, his par­ents work long hours at me­nial jobs and ex­pect him to be a du­ti­ful son. He sees the school’s white se­cu­rity guard bru­tally beat a black stu­dent, while later let­ting Kol­lie off with a wink.

When th­ese ten­sions boil over in a school fight that leads to Kol­lie’s sus­pen­sion, his par­ents de­cide to send him back to Monrovia to keep him away from bad in­flu­ences at home.

The nar­ra­tive loops back in time to Liberia in 1926, where Togar, a mem­ber of the Bassa eth­nic group, is flee­ing from agents of the coun­try’s Liberico-Amer­i­can rulers, who want to force him to work on a plan­ta­tion off the West African coast.

A deeper jump in time folds in the story of Yas­mine, a freed slave who es­capes the an­te­bel­lum South with her chil­dren for what she hopes is a bet­ter life in the new colony of Liberia.

The novel comes full cir­cle with Kol­lie’s fa­ther, Ujay, who falls in love with a “priv­i­leged in­dige­nous” woman in Monrovia, even as he puts his faith and ideals in a rev­o­lu­tion that will spark two decades of civil war.

“Dream Coun­try” is an am­bi­tious novel, tack­ling colo­nial­ism, slav­ery and racist vi­o­lence across cen­turies, and the way that an op­pressed group—such as freed slaves— can repli­cate that op­pres­sion in a new en­vi­ron­ment.

Gibney’s linked sto­ries and move­ment across time echo other his­toric epics, such as Yaa Gyasi’s “Home­go­ing,” that also at­tempt to knit a di­as­poric his­tory on both sides of the At­lantic slave trade.

The chal­lenge of this loosely linked form is that just as read­ers be­come in­vested in one char­ac­ter, the story jumps to an­other. Some of th­ese jumps feel abrupt, aban­don­ing char­ac­ters deep into their nar­ra­tive arc.

But that frus­tra­tion is bal­anced by some­times hi­lar­i­ous en­coun­ters with mi­nor char­ac­ters, such as an old man Ujay tries to brush off be­fore a date at a tea house.

In the end, “Dream Coun­try” asks big ques­tions and ex­poses new his­to­ries as it digs into the com­plex­i­ties of what Gibney calls “the on­go­ing, spi­ral­ing his­tory of the AfricanAfrican Amer­i­can en­counter.”

As one char­ac­ter says, the dreamer is al­ways part of the dream.

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