Study Guide

A Distant Shore

by Caryl Phillips

A Distant Shore Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Dorothy Jones has reached the end of the road—literally. Now in her fifties, she has moved into a tract house in the housing estate of Stoneleigh, which lies a few miles outside the village of Weston, England, where she grew up. Dorothy is lonely, aimless, and emotionally disturbed by the events of her past. The only ray of hope in Dorothy’s life is Solomon, Stoneleigh’s black handyman and night watchman. The pair strikes up a shallow, tentative, yet reassuring friendship.

Born to blue-collar, rigid parents, Dorothy was the only member of her family to attend university. There she studied music and met Bryan, whom she married, but their alliance soon proved loveless. Bryan deserted Dorothy for another woman. Dorothy then conducted a brief affair with a married, Punjabi shop owner named Mahmood, but he soon lost interest in her, as did Geoff Waverley, a married substitute teacher at the school where she taught. She made too many advances toward Waverley, and he accused her of harassment. Siding with Waverley, school authorities forced Dorothy into early retirement.

The narrative shifts from this English setting to the story of Solomon’s past life in an unnamed African nation. As a young man, Gabriel (Solomon’s real name) joined the “liberation army” in a bloody civil war, only to see the troops under his command turn into murderers, pillagers, and rapists. At home, he watched his father, mother, and two sisters savagely murdered....

(The entire section is 489 words.)

A Distant Shore Bibliography (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Calbi, Maurizio. “Encounters on the Estate: Memory, Secrecy, and Trauma in Caryl Phillips’s A Distant Shore.” In The Representation and Transformation of Literary Landscapes: Proceedings of the 4th AISLI Conference, edited by Francesco Cattani and Amanda Nadalini. Venice, Italy: Cafoscarina, 2006. Sees Dorothy and Solomon as strangers to each other and to themselves. Argues that ironies multiply between them, and each is guilty of what he or she sees lacking in the other.

Cooper, Richard Rand. “There’s No Place That’s Home.” Review of A Distant Shore, by Caryl Phillips. The New York Times, October 19, 2003. Observes that, in all his works, Phillips explores the displacement of Africans to foreign lands where they can never feel truly at home.

Kirkus Reviews. Review of A Distant Shore, by Caryl Phillips. 71, no. 16 (August 15, 2003): 104. Argues that A Distant Shore plumbs the depths of racial foolishness; the story is harsh and sad but worth the emotional investment.

Lengeman, William I., III. “Part 4: Caryl Phillips, A Distant Shore.” Knot Magazine (May 5, 2004). http://www.knotmag.com/?article=1292. Reads A Distant Shore as presenting death, hatred, violence, murder, and racism without remorse or apology, as simple facts—to be neither denied nor decried. The book depicts all humans as adrift; some just do not know it.

Sarvan, Charles. “Caryl Phillips: A Distant Shore.” International Fiction Review 32 (January, 2005): 131. Reads the multiple meanings of the novel’s title: being cast away—lonely and lost—in a foreign place, seeking happiness and peace that are beyond the human grasp, or missing the last chance to travel to a better place.

Warnes, Andrew. “Enemies Within: Diaspora and Democracy in Crossing the River and A Distant Shore.” Moving Worlds: A Journal of Transcultural Writings 7 (2007): 33-45. Argues that Phillips presents racism as a psychological disorder. In his view, racism is both a cause and an effect of repression in what should be a democratic, all-inclusive, egalitarian society.