Wednesday, April 11, 2007
I liked how he would write each chapter about the different characters, their back stories, and spend enormous amounts of time fleshing them out. The trouble was that at the beginning, several of the characters who are engaged in the NGO aid business are so similar (Wes, Doug, Fitz) that it is hard to remember which characterization belongs to whom. And, since so much time is spent on characterization, the story moves along slowly. Only towards the middle of the book did I statrt having clear ideas about who was who and who had done what. Quinnette, Michael, Diana, Ibrahim, and some others were distinctive enough to tell apart, but then again, relatively little time was spent on them at the beginning.
I think the main point Caputo is trying to make with this book is contained in a quote which he repeats throughout the novel, "In Sudan the choice is never between the right thing and the wrong thing but between what is necessary and what isn't." The same could probably be said of any place embroiled in war. I liked this enormous ethical gray area he develops, because I think it is the place most of us tend to reside most of the time in most of the situations in which we find ourselves. Or at least I do. I like to think I would remain objective if it were I flying aid supplies into a warzone, but I can sympathize with Douglas' character who, throughout the book, struggles with that objectivity. In my own experiences and travels in Israel and Palestine, I can clearly see objectivity having slowly melted away.
Quinnette's journey was the one that fascinated me the most, I think. She starts out as an Evangelical Christian missionary, sent to use money raised in the US to redeem Black Sudanese "slaves" (in a sense other than 'chattel,' more like prisoners of war) captured by Arab Sudanese slavers. Yet, the farther she gets immersed in that world, the more corruption and lies she becomes aware of and it grates on her soul, slowly eating away at her optimism and objectivity. She, in essence, marries the land, the conflict, the war, and it becomes her even as she becomes a product of it. Her transition is fascinating and sad at the same time.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has a little bit of literary patience - it can serve as an interesting primer on what is going on in the Sudan and might encourage you to learn more form a more factual point of view. While Caputo is careful to say that his work is one of fiction, the things he details in the novel did and do go on. The novel's title is interesting to me as well, now that I am finished with it. Each character sets out to do, what in their minds, are acts of good faith - the eternal optimism of the human spirit - and yet, each one, in their own way, turns out differently. So, the point is driven home, it isn't about what is right and wrong, but what is necessary and what isn't.