The Second Life of Samuel Tyne

by Esi Edugyan
ISBN: 0676976301

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A Review of: The Second Life of Samuel Tyne
by W. P. Kinsella

The Second Life of Samuel Tyne by Esi Edugyan, starts out like an award winner but mid-way through the book, bogs down and goes off in all directions, none of them satisfying.
Samuel Tyne, a 40-year-old, Oxford-educated immigrant from Africa's Gold Coast, has settled into a stultifying civil service job in Calgary where he is humiliated by his superiors. He's also in a loveless, or at least sexless marriage with his wife Maud. The Tynes have twin 12-year-old daughters who are terrifyingly brilliant, contemptuous of their parents and society; they communicate in a language of their own "with the high pitched frequency of squirrels."
The chance for a second start for Samuel comes when he inherits a ramshackle house and a few acres of land in Aster, AB, a setting based loosely on Amber Valley which was a hamlet started by ex-slaves who immigrated to Alberta in the early 1900s. Samuel quits his job without telling Maud and they move to Aster, which Samuel sees as an idyllic community where he can start over. However, in the 1970s there is only one other black family in Aster, and they are mysterious and perhaps downright evil. This family rags on Samuel because he doesn't observe proper African procedures in burying his uncle. It appears they are trying to steal several acres of Samuel's small bit of land. The daughters become more and more menacing; they almost drown a playmate, injure both Maud and Samuel, and are apparently firebugs.
>From here on it becomes a morose tragedy, springing from implausible causes, and sorrow upon sorrow is piled on the Tynes for little apparent reason. After a neighbor's house is torched the twins are institutionalized and never heard from again, and the final chapters afterwards. I thought this might be a fabulist novel, for there are so many undercurrents of menace, and Alberta geography and history are apparently purposely distorted. The only explanation I can come up with is that Samuel is truly being punished for not adhering to Gold Coast burial traditions. However, even if true, it is not enough. The final half of the novel is quite frankly a mess.

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