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ANTONIA SAW THE ORYX FIRST by Maria Thomas (Soho Press: $8.95)

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September 25, 1988|ELENA BRUNET

Antonia Redmond returns to her native Dar es Salaam after years away at college and medical school to find the country in a "state of flux. . . . Everyone else was gone, their property taken from them by decrees and nationalizations, the country made to follow some idea of socialism that involved hating everything it called 'Western.' "

A practicing physician, she treats a young black African woman named Esther Moro, who was brought to the hospital after having been slashed with the sharp edge of a broken bottle by a drunken Greek sailor. After her release, Esther returns to the hospital to ask Antonia to teach her to be a doctor and an unlikely friendship grows. But, after learning a few basics of Western medicine, Esther dismisses them, having discovered within herself the gift of healing.

Thomas' focus on medicine, Western or native--as metaphorical balms for the ills of the African continent--is at the core of this remarkable first novel. As Richard Eder wrote in his review, "Neither the instinctive healing lore of a traditional society nor the problem-solving science of the West is sufficient; both can find themselves powerless."

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