Over a decade after leaving her three sons behind in Liberia, Hannah Musgrave realizes she has to leave her farm in the Adirondacks and find out what has happened to them and the chimpanzees for whom she created a sanctuary. The Darling
is the story of her return to the wreckage of west Africa and the story of her past, from her middle-class American upbringing to her years in the Weather Underground. It is also one of the most powerful novels of the decade, an unforgettable tale of growth and loss, and an unstinting exploration of some of the most troubling issues of our time: terrorism, race, and the contact between the first world and the third.
Hannah Musgrave, the narrator of The Darling, tells us she first travelled to Africa in the mid-1970s, to escape prosecution for her radical political activities with the Weathermen. Arriving in Liberia to work in a medical research lab, Hannah – also known by her alias, Dawn Carrington – meets Woodrow Sundiata, an official in the ministry of public health, and they fall immediately in love. Courting with Woodrow, an intelligent, ambitious man, means encountering his other life in his ancestral village of Fuama – a life that could scarcely be more different from Hannah’s affluent childhood as the daughter of a bestselling pediatrician. Hannah and Woodrow start a family, but she feels herself to be somehow estranged from her life in Liberia and curiously detached from her husband and three sons. Still in search of herself as her children grow older, Hannah develops a closer and closer bond with the chimpanzees at the lab, whom she calls "dreamers."
During the early 1980s, Liberian society grows more unstable, until an illiterate soldier named Samuel Doe brutally overthrows and assassinates the president. Hannah’s courageous intervention with Doe leads to Woodrow’s release from detention, but at a price: she must return to the US, leaving her family behind. Hannah feels that her dreamers will feel her absence more deeply than her family will.
In the US Hannah briefly reconnects with her parents after years of estrangement before returning to her friends from her underground years. One of them, Zack Procter, is involved with a plan to spring Charles Taylor – an attractive Liberian politician – from jail, and Hannah involves herself with the plot, genuinely believing that Taylor will bring social democracy to west Africa.
Hannah gets permission to return to her family in the mid-1980s, and decides that this time things will be different: she will take charge of her home life, ousting Woodrow’s young cousin Jeanette, and she will build a sanctuary for her chimpanzees. But Charles Taylor has also returned, and his slow and bloody rebellion against Doe leads, eventually, to a night of horrific violence in which Woodrow is murdered and Hannah’s teenaged children disappear. Amidst chaos and almost unbelievable bloodshed, Hannah has time only to move her dreamers to Boniface Island before facing the heartrending decision to escape Liberia, leaving her children behind. More than ten years will pass before she can return to discover their fate, and understand her own.