“The Children”
by Andrea Lee
from the June 10 & 17, 2019 issue of The New Yorker

It’s always great to welcome in the summer with the annual New Yorker fiction issue. This year’s issue features three pieces, including Andrea Lee’s “The Children.”

Andrea Lee, like Han Ong, is an author I didn’t know coming into the issue. I may have read some of her work before, because prior to this issue she had already published thirteen stories in The New Yorker, going back to 1982. I’ve been a reader of the magazine since 2000, so I have possibly ran into her work before. I almost certainly read the last piece of fiction she published in the magazine, in September 2008, but that was  a few months before I started tracking the stories here, so maybe not. At any rate, it’s really nice to get a fiction issue that isn’t from the usual suspects.

And I must say that I’m intrigued by the opening of “The Children,” which looks like it could have been called “The Adventure of the Lost Heirs”:

The adventure of the lost heirs begins when Shay and her friend Giustinia run into Harena at the Fleur des Îles café. This happens in the early two-thousands, at the same time that a criminal at large on Anjavavy Island is cutting off people’s heads. The mysterious beheadings are not connected to the events recounted here, except to establish the lawlessness that is always present behind the dazzling Anjavavy panorama of sugar-white beaches and cobalt sea. The crimes begin to surface one hot January morning, as a French hotel manager is taking his predawn constitutional along Rokely Bay and spies through a mist of sand flies something just above the tide line that looks like an unhusked coconut. It turns out to be a human head, one that was last seen on the shoulders of a part-time sweeper at the Frenchman’s hotel.

In the next months, four more severed heads are discovered, hideously marooned near grounded pirogues, on paths through the sugarcane, and even on the rocks that are used by villagers as public toilets. The victims are all men from various Malagasy tribes: Antandroy, Tsimihety, Sakalava—night watchmen and groundskeepers of so low a status that no one bribes the island gendarmerie into investigating their deaths.

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