Reviewed by Eugénie de Rosier (Philippines 2006-08)
Edna G. Bay served in the Peace Corps in Malawi in the 1960s. She has published a handful of academic books about Africa, and “The Fallen” is her first novel.
Naïve, 30-year-old American Anna Moretti knows little of her mother’s death, an accident in east Africa’s Malawi, where her parents were development workers with the Peace Corps. Her dad, silent about her mother and Malawi for three decades, has just died, after raising Anna alone in the U.S., and she receives her mother’s African diary from her grandfather.
Still dissatisfied with unanswered questions about how and why mother died, Anna flies to Malawi to locate and interview her parents’ friends, and learns her dad was accused of his wife’s murder, and was to be tried in a foreign court, before he escaped the country.
Anna investigates Malawian and Peace Corps archives, and heightens her pursuit of former officials of both who were involved in the case, tracking some in England, France and America. This puts her in danger as she deepens her search to elevated levels of the U.S. government, and tears off the whitewash of its flouting Malawi’s rule of law.
Advancing through her journey, Anna weighs questions concerning how volunteers who are accused of crimes are supported by the Peace Corps. If her father had not fled, would he have received justice in an emergent country? Is a volunteer’s service period long enough to be of value to the host country’s people?
Contrary to Anna’s experience with her father, conflicting stories of his character by Malawians and her mother’s journal worry her.
The setting is lush with insect-infested air during the hot season, rugged heights and steep drops. Major characters are believable, but minor characters confuse the plot and caused me to backtrack and re-read, slowing this detailed story. The last quarter of The Fallen heightened in tension and it moved faster.
Eugénie de Rosier’s writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, Antioch Review, Big Muddy, Two Serious Ladies, Hurricane Alice and Sojourners, Ariel Chart International, and her commentaries have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere. Eleven years as a State of Minnesota writer brought her numerous first-place awards from the National Association of Government Communicators. A former Norcroft Writers’ resident, her short story collection was a finalist in Holy Cow! Press’ only collection contest, 2018.
She holds a BA and MA and is pursuing a publisher for an essay collection and a short story manuscript. An able athlete, de Rosier has swum Turkey’s Hellespont Strait, 2013; walked the 500-mile Camino alone from the south French Pyrenees across north Spain to its Santiago City/Atlantic Ocean terminus, 2016; received many gold medals in power-walk racing, 2019, 2021, and 2022 Minnesota Games. In 2011, she accepted a Distinguished Alumni honor, the Humanitarian Award, from the University of Minnesota, for her Peace Corps service in the Philippines, 2006-2008 as a small business development specialist. As requested by her community, Eugénie worked on an indigenous water development project in the mountains.