Gabby is fleeing a disintegrating marriage after years of fertility treatments and miscarriages. Heidi and her daughter Katie are hiding the secret of teen pregnancy that has ostracized them at home. Cassandra is a no-longer-up-and-coming reporter, hoping for the big story that will rejuvenate her career. The four of them end up on a missions trip to South Africa where they meet women whose faith and passion to help others transform their lives.
American Christian publishers want books with American characters because that is what American readers buy. Too often a story set abroad focuses so much on the Americans that the locals are no more than cardboard cutouts designed to fill plot roles or demonstrate what the author learned in research about the host country. Beaded Hope is different. It shows a commitment to dig deeply to really understand the women of Mamelodi township.
I picked this book up at the recent American Christian Fiction Writers conference after it won the Carol Award for women's fiction. I loved it because the African women were like women I have met. Liggett portrays them as heroes—women with strong faith in God who open their homes to orphans and children on the street, women who visit the sick and aren’t afraid to talk out loud about AIDS. These women don’t let their HIV status define them as people. Chloe wants a roof that doesn’t leak and an education for her son. Mighty dreams of studying nursing. Mama Penny is based on the real life “matriarch of Mamelodi” who has her hand in a dozen projects to improve life in her community. Jaleela dances a little jig when she meets her new American friends because she is sure God is going to use them to help her fulfill her dream—helping women to support their families by selling beadwork. They all remind me of people I have known.
Switches in point-of-view to introduce the various characters slowed down the beginning a little bit. And of course, three scenarios also necessitated three endings. (Fewer than Tolkien!) But once I knew these women, both American and African, I was committed to seeing their journey through. A couple plot elements seemed unlikely from an African perspective, but the typical reader would consider me a real nit-picker to bring them up. (Okay. I know. I AM a nit-picker.) Liggett’s American visitors were more conscious of dirt and native dress than I am, but that may be because familiarity makes them less noticeable.
Calling Mamelodi a “village” is probably intended to convey the idea of a supportive community, but I suspect most readers visualize a smaller, more rural setting than the sprawling, peri-urban community of nearly a million people that is Mamelodi outside Pretoria. But in the end, "Mamelodi" is a just name. This story could have taken place anywhere in South Africa, urban or rural.
Beaded Hope is about women helping women—African women helping each other and reaching out with grace to their clueless American visitors. The Americans go home changed, and I hope readers will be too.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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