A Distant Shore

A Distant Shore


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Phillips continues to build his elegantly crafted collection of work

about lives in, but not of, England, this time bringing a mentally ailing,

forcibly retired music teacher into tentative association with an African political refugee.



Books by Caryl Phillips

Crossing the River The Atlantic Sound  / The State of Independence / Cambridge / The European Tribe

Extravagant Strangers The Nature of Blood / A Distant Shore / Final Passage Dancing in the Dark / Forigners /

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A Distant Shore

A Novel by Caryl Phillips


From Caryl Phillips—acclaimed author of The Nature of Blood and The Atlantic Sound—a masterful new novel set in contemporary England, about an African man and an English woman whose hidden lives, and worlds, are revealed in their fragile, fateful connection.

Dorothy and Solomon live in a new housing estate on the outskirts of an English village. She’s recently bought her bungalow; he’s recently become the night watchman. He is black, an immigrant. She is white, a recently retired music teacher. They are both solitary, reticent outsiders. When they move tenuously toward each other and their paths briefly cross, neither of them can know that it will be the last true human contact either will have.

The novel unfolds into the past to show us how Solomon and Dorothy have arrived at this moment: Solomon, a former soldier, escaping the horrors of a war-ravaged African country, entering England illegally, a non-man with no resources but his own waning strength, and no comprehension of the society that both hates and harbors him; Dorothy, the product of a troubled childhood and a messy divorce, fleeing the repercussions of a desperate obsession. In scene after resonant scene, we watch as Solomon and Dorothy come to live inside themselves, closing off from a world that has changed—and changed them—beyond recognition. In their powerfully compelling stories, Caryl Phillips has created a brilliant and moving portrait of modern human displacement: from home, from heart, and from self.–Book Jacket for A Distant Shore

Desperate, displaced people populate the latest from award-winning essayist, critic, and novelist Phillips (Crossing the River; The Nature of Blood). Dorothy is a divorced retired schoolteacher with a troubled past and an increasingly precarious present, drifting further into depression and mental illness in the small northern England town of Weston where she has gone to flee the death of her sister and a series of reckless love affairs with married men. Solomon, in his early 30s, is a survivor of a war-torn African country, witness to events and atrocities almost too painful to recount, which include the execution of his own family.

They meet in a small corner of England, given one last chance at redemption and belonging—this time with one another—before prejudice and brute violence destroy even that. Phillips crafts his novel with great skill, portraying his characters with a faithful eye that reveals their inner beauty as clearly as their defects. A true master of form, he manipulates narrative time (which skips, speeds and sometimes runs backward) and perspective to create a disjointed sense of place that mirrors the tortured, fractured inner lives of his characters.

Phillips’ version is of a splintered. fragile world where little seems to have inherent meaning and love is opportunistic and fleeting. As Dorothy reaches her tragic end, she receives a visit from the husband who left her long ago for a younger woman; he himself has now been abandoned. The message of our inherent aloneness is clear. As Dorothy herself says, in a note to one of her married lovers: “Abandonment is a state that is not alien to man.” The book expresses an even bleaker view: that abandonment is not only a risk, but our natural condition.Publishers Weekly


An unlikely couple seek shelter from the brutal chill of northern English attitudes. Anglo-Caribbean writer Phillips (The Nature of Blood, 1997; The Atlantic Sound, 200, etc.) continues to build his elegantly crafted collection of work about lives in, but not of, England, this time bringing a mentally ailing, forcibly retired music teacher into tentative association with an African political refugee. Dorothy Jones is a divorced, once-beautiful woman in her 50s whose increasingly erratic behavior gave cause for her dismissal as a school teacher. The elder daughter of a truculent working-class father and unprotective mother, Dorothy failed early on to lend vital assistance to her abused sister when she needed it, and was unable to enliven her marriage with the higher-class but ineffective banker who left her for a younger woman.

A couple of ruinous affairs capping this dismal history have pushed her into near-madness. Now, her parents and sister dead, she lives alone in a new subdivision outside her childhood village where her only friendly neighbor is Solomon, the neighborhood watchman and handyman. A fugitive from bloody  African political upheaval, Solomon has been even more brutally battered than Dorothy, but he is made of stronger stuff. Phillips backtracks to show Solomon’s nightmarish stint as a rebel soldier and equally hellish escape to England and his painful steps to a new identity, assisted by an Irish truck-driver and his landlords the only kindly people in the forlorn surroundings.

The success with this pairing of lives is mixed. Dorothy Jones comes perilously close in some ways to Blanche Dubois without the guts, but her surroundings are perfectly rendered, and Solomon is drawn with Phillips’ accustomed precision and depth, and, with the calm, cool understanding of the reality of racial foolishness, it’s enough to tip the balance. Harsh and sad, but worth the trip.Kirkus Review


“They do not know who I am,” thinks Solomon, an African man living just outside an English village where the local racists make their hatred known. In that lightning-bolt observation, Phillips—an impeccable stylist and astute dramatist of the paradoxical inhumanity of humankind and the sorrows of the African diaspora—cuts to the quick of the conflict between fearful Europeans and tragically displaced African and Asian refugees. Solomon’s politeness and restraint mask the traumas of his life as a veteran of a brutal civil war, witness to the massacre of his family, and the survivor of a perilous journey and a treacherous exile.But he has met with the kindness as well as savagery in his adopted country, and seeks a bond with his beautiful, decorous, and solitary neighbor. Although Dorothy grew up in the village, she does not share her neighbors’ violent prejudice. Forced into a scandalous early retirement, she, too, is plagued by anguished memories of a lifetime of loss and betrayal.Brilliantly realized, these outsiders are rife with ambiguity, heartsick over their fate, but determined to press on. The author of seven extraordinary elegant and unflinching novels (Crossing the River [1993] was short-listed for the Booker prize), Phillips is a clarion realist devoted to confronting our capacity for both cruelty and compassion.–Donna Seaman, Upfront: Advance Reviews


Two lonely lives intertwine in this haunting novel set in contemporary England. Dorothy has recently moved to a new subdivision in a small village after a forced retirement leaves her desperate for a new life. Solomon, an illegal immigrant escaping a violent past in Africa, is the night watchman at the subdivision. They form a cautious friendship despite the distrust and isolation each is experiencing in new surroundings. Because the narrative begins at the end, it involves frequent flashbacks, and at first the story seems disjointed and confusing. Once we learn about Dorothy and Solomon, however, we see how lost and resigned each has become to the harshness of the world, and we recognize that their only salvation lies in the fragile connection they have to each other. The award-winning author of Cambridge, Phillips has created a poignant and quietly powerful portrait of contemporary alienation. Recommended for larger public libraries. –Library Journal


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Caryl Phillips is the author of seven novels that, taken together, Time magazine calls “one of literature’s great meditations on race and identity. . . . Not only is he one of the most accomplished black novelists writing in English, but he is fast becoming known as one of the most productive all-around men of letters anywhere.” He has written plays, movies (Merchant-Ivory’s The Mystic Masseur), TV dramas and radio scripts, edited a tennis anthology and teaches English at Columbia University’s Barnard College.

A Distant Shore, Phillips’ latest novel, is a departure from his earlier books in that it’s the first to be set in the present.

The novel centers on the relationship between a retired white English schoolteacher, Dorothy, and a young black man, Solomon, an African immigrant who moves in next door to her. They form an unlikely friendship based on their feelings of isolation: Dorothy seems a stranger in her own land, the result of a lifetime of loss and betrayal; Solomon truly is an outsider, trying to assimilate in a country that seems lost itself. Through the intersection of their lives, Phillips explores the concept of national identity and its very real, often violent, impact on individual lives.

Phillips, born 1958 in the West Indies, is the child of West Indian parents who settled in England. Raised in Leeds, where he was the only black child in a white working class town, Phillips’ life has revolved around issues of belonging and displacement. He now travels the globe, organizing conferences, giving lectures, and talking with fellow writers. Though infused with issues of race, the themes Phillips explores are universal, placing him among our most talented writers, black or white.

“The author of seven extraordinarily elegant and unflinching novels . . . Phillips is a clarion realist devoted to confronting our capacity for both cruelty and compassion,” writes Booklist in a starred review. “Phillips crafts his novel with great skill, portraying his characters with a faithful eye that reveals their inner beauty as clearly as their defects,” writes Publisher Weekly. 

Phillips lives in New York City. “I’m sort of a migrant,” he said, according to a NYTimes Book Review (1/30/94), noting that any diaspora invariably involves feelings of guilt and loss. But, he stressed, it can also give rise to new traditions. “You have to look at it with the same pair of spectacles and see it as something that does have a positive aspect,” he observed, “not just for those who have survived, but for their children.” Phillips view rootlessness as emblematic of postmodern man. “As I look around, I see many people linking two places in their minds. neither is home, and yet both become home. Reports are that Phillips maintains as well homes in London and St. Kitts.

He is available for interviews. Please call if you would like to arrange one: Jill Morrison, Associate Director of Promotion, 212-572-2091,

Source: Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 212-782-9000,

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 20 December 2011





Related files: A Distant Shore Reviews   Interview with Caryl Phillips

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