TBR: Acts of Faith

Today’s book is Acts of Faith, by Philip Caputo.  The main characters are aid workers and pilots in the Sudan, and it’s a sweeping story of good intentions, unintended consequences, and hubris.  It’s often unclear who is acting out of greed and who out of principle — and the idealists are often the ones who do the most damage.  There are several pairs of unlikely lovers in the story, but the biggest love interest is Africa as a whole.

I picked up the book after reading Michiko Kakutani’s absolute rave in the New York Times.  I didn’t quite like it as much as she did (although I liked it more than Jonathan Yardley did), but I’m glad I read it.  Caputo does a brilliant job of capturing the draw of aid work: how the  hope of making a real difference in people’s lives blends with a desire to live life on a larger scale than most people have the opportunity.  His characters rage against the ordinary as they slide down the slippery slope towards moral decay.

However, if you’re going to read only one book about the Sudan, you should read Emma’s War, by Deborah Scroggins (soon to be a movie staring Nicole Kidman).  It’s nonfiction, and provides a good overview of the long-lasting civil war as well as an examination of the life of Emma McCune, a British relief worker who married a SPLA warlord.  McCune is clearly the inspiration for one of the main characters in Acts of Faith; I found myself wondering whether Caputo started his book because he was frustrated by Scroggins’ ultimate inability to explain McCune’s choices.

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Nicholas Kristof has a new op-ed in the Times today, urging once again more attention to the horrors still occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan.  He argues "When Americans see suffering abroad on their television screens, as they did after the tsunami, they respond. I wish we had the Magboula Channel, showing her daily struggle to forge ahead through humiliation and hunger, struggling above all to keep her remaining children alive." 

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