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February 04, 1996|CHARLES SOLOMON

THE LONGEST MEMORY by Fred D'Aguiar (Avon: $10; 138 pp.). Guyanese poet Fred D'Aguiar won two prestigious English awards (Whitbread and David Higgins) for this exceptional first novel about slavery. Although Whitechapel believes he treats his slaves kindly, tensions fester on his plantation. D'Aguiar suggests that conflict is inevitable in a social system that forces people to live in proximity but separates them with arbitrary racial distinctions. These tensions bring sorrow to the plantation and to the aged paterfamilias of most of the slaves. D'Aguiar writes with a poet's economy of language as well as a poet's sensitivity in this spare, eloquent tragedy.

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