Empire Settings by David Schmahmann
A Novel

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Danny Divan is a white teenager in South Africa under apartheid when he falls in love with the daughter of a black domestic servant. His family forces the two apart, and eventually his discomfort with the poisonous political atmosphere drives him from the country and to a new life in America.

Within weeks of his arrival in Boston, Danny meets Tesseba, an offbeat but trusting artist who takes him in and marries him so he won’t be deported. Even as they live as a couple and build a life together, and as Danny prospers and his family joins him in exile, the memory of his forbidden first love does not fade. Twenty years later, when Danny returns to the "new" South Africa to salvage what he can of his family’s fortune, he sets out to discover what became of the girl he cannot forget. What he finds instead is the truest version of himself.

This novel traces the ambiguities of love within a family and for another, and tests the shakiness of memory. Empire Settings reveals how love, and the memory of love, can be overwhelmed by changing assumptions about race and belonging.

David Schmahmann was born in Durban, South Africa, and is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the Cornell Law School. He has also studied in India and Israel, and his publications include a short story in The Yale Review and articles on legal issues. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts and practices law in Boston. This is his first novel.

The book has been optioned for a film by noted producer Danny Wilson.


About David Schmahmann

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Schmahmann was born in Durban, South Africa. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the Cornell Law School and has studied in India and Israel and worked in Burma. He practices law in Boston.
Published October 1, 2001 by White Pine Press. 328 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Romance, Political & Social Sciences. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Empire Settings

Kirkus Reviews

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Family infighting forms the story’s tension, and Schmahmann is far better at depicting subtle family dynamics than addressing international political issues.

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Publishers Weekly

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Narrated in sequential chapters (with flashbacks) in the voices of Danny, his mother, his sister, the servant, the girl and Danny again, the novel opens 20 years after Danny's arrival in Boston.

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Book Reporter

Read an Excerpt The strikingly cross-cultural blurbs on the jacket cover of EMPIRE SETTINGS --- from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Publishers Weekly --- offer a good indication of the political scope of David Schmahmann's debut novel about a forbidden love affair between a privileged young white ma...

Jan 21 2011 | Read Full Review of Empire Settings: A Novel

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