Gimme Shelter

Sylvia has landed there to become the local doctor, although there are no medical supplies or books for miles. The Sweetest Dream deftly sketches the muddle of interests in Africa, the incompetence, poverty, superstition, and foreign intervention hobbling Zimlia's new black Communist government. Lessing allows Sylvia to take center stage the way no other character in the novel has, playing out the themes of belief and action in a concrete way. Others in the book devote themselves to changing things, but only abstractly (by preaching or throwing money at problems); Sylvia actually gets her hands dirty, lives side by side with the people she wants to help. It's not that The Sweetest Dream goes all warm and gooey for Sylvia—her well-meaning whitegirl labor is undoubtedly futile, a drop in the proverbial bucket. But Lessing seems touched by this woman who, like generations before her, is propelled by the dream of a better world. Buried in all that jaded despair, Lessing has her own sweet spot for selflessness.

Also in This Week’s Books Section:

Freed of the necessity to spare anyone's feelings, Doris Lessing lets rip.
photo: Ingrid Von Kruse
Freed of the necessity to spare anyone's feelings, Doris Lessing lets rip.


The Sweetest Dream
By Doris Lessing
HarperCollins, 249 pp., $26.95
Buy this book

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