Jeanette Windle’s books just keep getting better. I reviewed her Afghanistan series in the past. Her latest, Congo Dawn, is being released this week. It's set in the former Belgian Congo, Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Whether that darkness is local or colonial, Conrad leaves in doubt, and Windle picks up this theme in a thriller that will keep you up at night turning pages. The author knows Africa from the relief organizations and schools where my kids studied to the stamping of pestles and the singing of the locals. She shows African believers putting us Westerners to shame with their faith in the midst of a horrific situation. The book may be fiction, but the situation of brutal warlords and corrupt corporations grabbing what they can get at the expense of ordinary people is all too real.
Windle has mastered the art of withholding back-story until we are desperate to find out what lies behind the characters’ pain and angry reactions. The plot deals graphically with the question of maintaining faith in God’s love in the midst of suffering. Miriam, the American wife of an African doctor in a bush clinic, apologizes for preachiness in chapter twenty-seven where Windle lays out her theology of suffering. She asks who has the right to say “Jesus loves you” to one in pain. It might have been subtler if Robin, the main character struggling with the issues, had come to her own conclusions in a shortened form, but Miriam has been through her own personal hell. I can well imagine readers of fiction who would never dream of picking up a work of non-fiction on the classic problem of pain, who by the time they reach that chapter are more than ready for someone to walk them through the intricate issues in the context of characters they have come to care deeply about. The story certainly doesn’t lack for illustrating the truths explained.
There are strong African characters as well as the American protagonists. Windle doesn't give away the romantic resolution since she doesn't follow the romance writer's convention of alternating points-of-view between the romantic leads. Instead she alternates with villains and rebels and we aren't at all sure how things will turn out.
Although the ending is satisfying, it is not neatly tied up with the bad guys punished and the good guys living happily ever after. Check the internet—the unrest in Congo has not ended. But the story does end with hope—hope in Jesus Christ who loves us in our pain and does not abandon us in our suffering.
While I was reading Congo Dawn, I saw the film version of Les Miserables. I found myself thinking of the epilogue:
Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light.
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies;
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.
They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord
They will walk behind the plough-share
They will put away the sword.
The chains will be broken
And all men will have their reward!
Even in Congo, the darkest night will end and the sun will rise. Jesus reigns.
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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