A review by lisa_mc
The Bay of Foxes by Sheila Kohler


A creepy psychological novel, an exploration of race, class and power, a window on history -- and all in about 200 pages, superbly written to boot. Set in 1978, "The Bay of Foxes" is about a young Ethiopian immigrant to France, Dawit -- living in squalor and lacking papers because he broke out of prison and fled the upheaval in his homeland -- who through a chance encounter in a Paris cafe takes up with a famous, much older writer, M. M. is smitten with Dawit -- or maybe just the idea of Dawit -- and invites him into her home, showers him with money and gifts, introduces him to her social circle. The child of nobility, Dawit is erudite, multilingual and well-educated, and soon charms M.'s friends and takes over her correspondence, even editing her work and posing as her on the phone. However, Dawit can't give M. the one thing she really wants from him: he's gay, not interested in being her lover. But he'll let her take it, and in return take her fine clothes and luxurious apartment.
"He speaks her language perfectly, but she does not know a word of his" -- this sums up the relationship between Dawit and M. She's rich, connected, older, white. He's penniless, lost, young, black. She has all the power -- almost all of it -- and she wields it.
When M. takes Dawit to her villa in Sardinia, on the Bay of Foxes, he falls in love, and must decide what to do from there.
Inevitable comparisons will be made between Dawit and Mr. Ripley -- Kohler nods to this by having one character reading a Patricia Highsmith novel -- but Dawit is not an unfeeling, amoral villain; he's a basically good person warped by horrible circumstances, who tries to rebuild his life and find himself. Kohler's present-tense writing moves at a good clip and kept me guessing. The story is gripping in a pit-of-the-stomach way -- it's hard not to sympathize with Dawit, even though he makes some very bad choices.