Doro lives by taking over other people’s bodies, killing them in the process. Anyanwu heals herself from the inside, and can shapeshift into any human or animal. They meet in Africa, Anyanwu three hundred years old, Doro over three thousand, and travel to the New World once Doro sufficiently threatens Anyanwu’s descendants. Doro breeds people with unusual powers, and he finds Anyanwu’s abilities a positive addition to his people, despite her “wild seed” nature, which is prone to disagreement and rebellion.
Doro lives by killing, but he has no choice. His life essence immediately leaps into someone near him — he could not kill himself if he tried. But the transition into a new body is a joyous process for Doro, he not only ruthlessly murders, he enjoys it. But of all the gifted people he has found, no one measures close, either in power or longevity. His long life-span and the nature of his power has distanced Doro from humanity, and he cares little for the individual, encouraging his children to treat him like a god and breeding his favorites like cattle. And the great part is that I like Doro, or at least I understand him.
Anyanwu’s powers as a healer and shapeshifter keep her close to the individual, growing old with husbands (and sometimes wives), having children, and when they are all dead, moving on and doing it all over again. She can even rewrite her own DNA completely, living as a cat or dolphin. When a gifted white man asks her to become white, she refuses. Anyanwu is the moral compass, commenting on incest, slavery, race, class, and sexuality.
The story is simple — two immortals learn to live with one another in a world of normal-lived, if gifted, people. What follows is a cycle of intimidation and capitulation, in which Anyanwu struggles to remain free while she lives with Doro’s people, against a backdrop of 17th and 18th century American slavery. In addition to the story, the writing seems simple too, because the story flows so well, but then again I am not sure where all the exposition is hidden.
This is such a big story, spanning generations, full of extraordinary powers and immortals, that I expected a little more from the ending. Instead, it’s a quiet conclusion, a tipping point in a much larger story. This is a story of two people who cannot die, but it’s mostly a tragic love story between them.
Highly recommended for fans of literary scifi!
“She learned quickly that it was not good to be too different. Great differences caused envy, suspicion, fear, charges of witchcraft.”