The Bay of Foxes

Written by Sheila Kohler
Review by Helene Williams

Dawit walks the streets of 1978 Paris, his stomach aching from hunger and his mind full of thoughts of his destroyed homeland: Ethiopia. As the son of a top advisor to Emperor Haile Selassie, Dawit enjoyed an easy life, friends, and an international education; as a palace denizen, he was thrown into jail during the revolution. After years of torture and privation, he finally makes his way to Paris, along with other penniless refugees, where he lives in paranoid, crowded, squalor. One day in a café he sees a famous author, M., whose work he had long admired, and works up the nerve to meet her eye.

Thus starts what at first feels like a story of redemption, of learning to trust, and even of affection. M. provides Dawit with a clean room, clothes, food, and an allowance, asking very little in return — at first. Dawit can provide M. with much that she needs, in terms of being a personal assistant. His language skills and education help him move fluidly into her circle; while part of him revels in this new life, he never forgets his past. Fleeting references to Dawit’s fellow refugees in Paris contrast sharply with the beauty of M.’s life: the homes, the clothes, the travel. Both M. and Dawit grow increasingly demanding and manipulative, leading the reader to question loyalties and motives.

This compelling novella is part history, part thriller, and will be welcomed by fans of Patricia Highsmith; there’s more than a passing nod here to the cunning twists in the Ripley novels. The settings — Ethiopia, Paris, and Italy — are well-rendered and true to the era, while the story itself projects the timeless themes of belonging, possession, and self.