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Toloki, a ”professional mourner” in South Africa who spends his days attending funerals, lands in the U.S. and settles outside Athens, Ohio, as the guest of the Quigley family. Ruth, the household’s matriarch and link to its slave history, sews beautiful quilts while sharing her stories to all comers. But that same past suffocates her two adult children, mama’s boy Obed and his sister, Orpah. Toloki soon abandons his fascination with the dead, and insinuates himself into the family’s present. Zakes Mda struggles in Cion to incorporate recent events like Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 elections while keeping his focus: connecting modern characters with their pasts. But Mda loads the novel with so many narratives that readers will want to throw off a layer or two. C+