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The Cleft


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About the Author

Winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature, Doris Lessing was one of the most celebrated and distinguished writers of our time, the recipient of a host of international awards. She wrote more than thirty books--among them the novels Martha Quest, The Golden Notebook, and The Fifth Child. She died in 2013.


Eminent novelist Lessing offers an alternative origin story for the human race, indirectly recalling the alternate world speculations of her Canopus in Argos SF novels. Positing that the primal human stock was female rather than male, Lessing invents a cult of ancient women called the Clefts, a name derived, in part, from that essential part of female anatomy. The story of the Clefts is bookended by the journal of a Roman historian, who interprets ancient documents stating that females were originally impregnated by "a fertilizing wind or a wave," to give birth to female children. But one day a "deformed" baby is born, with a "lumpy swelling" never seen before. The first rape and the first murder follow soon enough, as do the first instances of consensual intercourse and the babies-the first of a new race, with a nature derived from both sexes-that are the result. Humor, which may or may not be intentional, is introduced into a generally lethargic text when women and men discover they can't live with or without each other, and the battle of the sexes commences. The novel has elements of a feminist tract, but the story it tells doesn't present a significant challenge to that of Adam and Eve. (Aug.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

In this thought-provoking and compelling novel, an elderly Roman scholar retells the story of how human beings originated. But in his version, people were at first female only-he portrays a community called the Clefts who give birth to girls in conjunction with the cycles of the moon. Understandably, the Clefts are shocked and confused when the first male is born. What develops is much like an original battle of the sexes; the men are cast out and form their own community, but eventually the curiosity of both groups gets the better of them. Images of the scholar's own life emerge as he attempts to piece together this story from fragments of manuscripts and the oral traditions of both the women and the men of that time. The award-winning author of The Golden Notebook and the "Children of Violence" series, Lessing does not present an idealized view of women; far from being loving and peaceful, they actually treat the men quite cruelly. This multifaceted account of life, love, gender, history, and the power of story is engrossing if not easy reading. Highly recommended for literary collections.-Alicia Korenman, Florida State Univ., Tallahassee Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

"Eminent novelist Lessing offers an alternative origin story for the human race."--Publishers Weekly
"One of postcolonial fiction's brightest lights makes mythic the battle of the sexes. . . . A dark parable, powerful . . . "--Kirkus Reviews

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