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A Marker to Measure Drift Hardcover – 1 Aug 2013
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A mesmerising novel about a woman pushed to the limits of human experience. Maksik combines James Salter's gift for seductive sentences with a real mastery of character and story. A beautiful, tender piece of literature which just happens to be a page-turner too (Jonathan Lee)
A Marker to Measure Drift is a haunting, haunted novel. Things get stripped down to essentials - food, water, where to sleep for the night, a state of solitary desperation brought on by the most profound kind of loss. Every line of this excellent novel rings true as Maksik leads us toward the catastrophe at the story's core. This is one of those books that leaves you staring into space when you finish, dazed from the sheer power of what's been said (Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk)
Gorgeously written, tightly wound, with language as precise as cut glass, Alexander Maksik's A Marker to Measure Drift is a tour de force. Maksik renders the soul of his heroine, a Liberian refugee, with stark honesty so that we understand both the brutality of what she has run from and the terror she experiences as she tries to build her life back. I was undone by this novel. I challenge anyone to read it and not come away profoundly changed (Marisa Silver, author of Mary Coin and The God of War)
A Marker to Measure Drift is spellbinding. In its tenderness, grandeur and austerity, it reminds us that there is no country on earth as foreign, as unreachable, as the frantic soul of another human being (Susanna Sonnenberg, author of Her Last Death and She Matters)
A moving, deeply felt and lyrical novel about past and present (Kirkus Reviews)
An excellent novel. Each sentence feels intensely crafted, hitting the right tone in what seems like the most concise way possible . . . This book captured me immediately . . . I expected to like A Marker to Measure Drift, but never thought I would become as emotionally involved as I did (Newbooks Magazine)
Alexander Maksik's second novel portrays a young Liberian woman named Jacqueline who . . . astonishes, soothes, and horrifies us with perfect efficiency, making A Marker to Measure Drift a masterpiece (Buenos Aires Review)
A haunting, poignant novel told in beautifully lyrical prose (Image)
Maksik hits the mark. His writing is both stark and lyrical, subtly reflecting Jacqueline's state of mind - wary, desolate, hallucinatory, determined. Maksik's last ten pages, a masterclass in how to captivate and revolt a reader, may well be the most powerful I will read all year (Malcolm Forbes, Literary Review)
Alexander Maksik's first novel You Deserve Nothing received rave reviews and it looks as though this, his second, is going to be as successful. We wander around the beaches with Jacqueline, listening to her thoughts and the internal dialogue with her mother without knowing an awful lot about either of them . . . By the end of the book we know everything in one of the biggest impacting narratives I've ever read. He writes lilting prose, almost demanding to be read aloud (Bookbag)
A harrowing portrayl of the aftermath of war on a young woman (Independent on Sunday)
A Marker to Measure Drift is a novel of such intensity that I had to put it down every so often just to catch my breath and anchor myself in my own comfortable world. Alexander Maksik skilfully engages his readers' sympathy so that we ache for a happy ending knowing that there can be none. (A Life in Books)
Thought-provoking novel (Lady)
No novel I read this year affected me more powerfully than Alexander Maksik's A Marker to Measure Drift (Richard Russo)
Maksik has produced a bold book, and an instructive one (Norman Rush, The New York Times Book Review)
Poetic, often mesmerizing . . . faultlessly lyrical . . . A Marker to Measure Drift is about compassion; perhaps it's even a masterclass in compassion (Sydney Morning Herald)
An electrifying novel that tracks a woman's journey from the horrors of Charles Taylor's Liberia to abject poverty and self-exile on a Greek island.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
The protagonist has just arrived on the Greek island of Santorini and is patently in shock at some unspecified events in her recent past. An educated woman of good family in Liberia, she now finds herself poverty-stricken and driven to sleeping in a cave.
Day follows day, and very little happens - an occasional friendly word, a meal here, a change of location - all narrated in a kind of dream-like way which conveys Jacqueline's frame of mind as day melts into identical day. The only constant companion is her mother who, in her mind, comments on her actions, criticising or encouraging.
Only at the end do we learn the details of what has happened in Liberia.
Very powerful read.
Marker to Measure Drift operates on two levels that the writing style expresses perfectly. On one level, it's a straightforward moment-by-moment account of a young woman, Jacqueline, who has been displaced from her homeland of Liberia and made her way to the Greek islands where she is now living as a vagrant, relying on the kindness of people she meets and getting by earning a few Euros giving foot massages. It doesn't take long to realise however that her hand-to-mouth existence being reduced to basic needs is not so much determined by choice or even circumstance as much as it is a necessity to keep at bay the memory of who she is and what has brought her to this condition.
The depiction of Jacqueline's existence is nonetheless often beautifully summed up in simple phrases by Maksik that capture the fragility of her existence that are indeed related to historical events that took place towards the end of Charles Taylor's regime in Liberia, but the writing also evokes deeper and more universal resonances. There's a wider sense of life being fragile, of one's place in the world being transitory, insubstantial and impermanent, but the story also delves into the question of memory and the need to come to an accommodation with the past. More than anything, for all her desire to be self-dependent, it becomes clear to Jacqueline that without other people, it's difficult to define yourself and feel like you really exist.
The writing then can flit from present-day to the past, memories and dead people co-existing in Jacqueline's mind as her grasp on reality slips and the enormity of what you gradually come to suspect might have happened comes to asserts itself. At some stage you know the true horror of Jacqueline's position and condition is going to come out, and when it does, it's worse than you could possibly imagine. I almost wish I could erase the last chapter of the novel from my mind, as I'd come to really feel for Jacqueline and would have been quite content to live with the uncertainty about her background. Maksik however doesn't spare you or allow any such comfortable ignorance. He's probably right to do so, as confrontation of the issue is undoubtedly important to Jacqueline, but I still wish I'd left the last chapter unread.
We first meet Jacqueline in a hot tourist town on the point of fainting through lack of nourishment and dehydration. We quickly learn that she is some sort of illegal immigrant and lives on the beach as a vagrant. She has few possessions and earns just enough money by giving foot massages on the beach to buy tomatoes and cheese. We learn through Jacqueline's memories that she is the daughter of a Government official of war torn Liberia, was schooled in Cheltenham and told by her mother, for the best of reasons, never to return to her homeland. Jacqueline's diction and politeness are impeccable and her slow calm exterior reflects a well mannered young lady rather than a scared homeless itinerant. Much of the book is written of memory to fill in Jacqueline's background and not until the end do we learn the full horrors of what she has seen and had happen to her family.
Maksik is an excellent and fluid writer, almost poetic, but this is a work of art rather than a gripping story. I'm not saying it is a poor story, on the contrary it is a very strong story, but slower than most modern books, almost moody, and beautifully written. However, there are glaring mistakes referring to the tide - rising tide, the tide was high/low, tidal pools - the Mediterranean is not tidal, or at least not where this book was set, on the island of Santorini in the Aegean.
Powerful writing skilfully juxtaposes basic daily practicalities with evidence of a mind increasingly awry - only a little nudge needed to tip it over the edge. From within Jacqueline yet finds the resourcefulness to manage another day, grateful for little acts of kindness that help her to cope.
This is distressing fare, for it by no means certain Jacqueline can possibly come through. What for her when those unspeakable images force their way to the fore? (When they eventually do, even the most hardened readers may well emerge shaken.)
Incredibly nowhere is there a hint of mawkishness, such a danger in less gifted hands. A craftsman is at work.
Here is a novel to experience rather than to enjoy. For many the circumstances are likely to haunt.