by Mark Wentling (Honduras 1967–69, Togo 1970–73; PC Staff: Togo, Gabon, Niger 1973–77)
Unexpected twists and turns keep the reader guessing about what will happen next. Throughout this entertaining novel is weaved a one-way dialogue between a dying prisoner who tells repeatedly his sad story to a hungry jailhouse rat, which only lives to eat. The story moves from the death and destruction of one town to the amazing rebuilding of a new town by survivors who lived to tell the tale. The human foibles of many of the book’s characters are displayed. Miracles make possible survival, love, and marriage, but evil lurks beneath the surface, and unforeseeable events determine the future of a people and their country. Heroes live and die by the hand of hidden forces beyond their control. The eyes of an innocent young man, offspring of a saintly mother who died giving birth to him, are opened to social injustices caused by an elitist power structure. The ambitions and interests of a few are pursued to the detriment of the majority. Fortunes are decided by a violent border dispute and a heated soccer match that leads to a brief war between two countries. The story begins with hopes created by salvation found in the protection of an old church and ends uncannily in the same church, where a handful of assorted protagonists find they have been given a new lease on life. Yet the question is left open as to which forces will ultimately rule: good or evil? No mention is made of the sacrifices necessary for good to triumph over evil. Will people be willing to work long and hard enough for the good of their country, or will they be guided by their own selfish interests and incapacity to understand what is really at stake? These questions and others are left to the reader to answer. Other questions remain unanswered. Will unscrupulous leaders succeed in manipulating people to support them? Is divine intervention for the good of the people possible? How many chances will good people be given to make the wrongs of society right? Will unanticipated events continue to govern the course taken by a people and their country? Which way will the wheel of time turn, and who will benefit? Nobody masters completely with certainty their destiny. Fate will be what it will be. Several readings of this book could yield some answers to these questions, but good answers to these eternal questions will continue to be beyond the grasp of mere mortals. In the end, it is up to each individual to decide whether or not their life made a positive difference that endures for generations. Or maybe this book is only an engrossing superficial story that has nothing to do with any of these heavy questions or any deeper meaning. Each reader will have to decide for themselves what this book is about.