Feb 23, 2013

Congo Dawn, by Jeanette Windle

This new book has the typical elements you can expect from a fiction novel that takes place in an African conflict zone – abuse and draining of a community due to its natural resources and foreign businessmen blinded by profits and ignoring the devastation their enterprises cause to the people living in their source of wealth, as well as suspense, unbelievable circumstances, romance… However, this novel tells no ordinary story and is far from being typical.

What makes this novel so special is not the common thread it shares with other books, but the wonderful depth that Jeanette Windle imprints in the story through amazingly accurate historical, social, geographical and spiritual depictions, as well as her care and interest for those who have seen their lives threatened again and again.  She takes particular interest in describing how the apparent comforts that Western civilization offer do not yield to happiness.  True zest for life comes from overcoming what lies ahead and keeping our eyes on heaven; it lies on the certainty that the Creator is good and just, no matter how horrible men’s actions might be. 

Robin, formerly in the Armed Forces serving in Afghanistan, is hired as a translator for a security team that would go into the Ituri region of Congo in order to check the actions of Jini, a local insurgent that is threatening the operations of a mining enterprise.  Robin’s niece is need of a medical procedure, and this job is Robin’s way of providing for the kid and Robin’s sister. Robin comes across with Michael, a friend whom she holds responsible for her brother’s dead. Michael is a doctor who grew up in the area where the mine is, so he has apparent ties to the local community.  The security team sets up at Taraja, the place where Michael’s family lives and have set up a medical clinic.

What Robin never imagined back home, is that this job will imply more than dealing with the living arrangements for some weeks.  She needs to face and deal with Michael, his family and the actual loyalties of those around her.  Little by little, she finds out that things might not be all what they initially seem to be, and she ends up in the middle of a tangled situation between her employer, the community and the government; her life might be in danger, but after learning about the atrocities Taraja has been through, her eyes start to open and even her faith becomes a challenge. Robin must face a tough decision – whether to follow her instincts or let the military training kick in.

While the intrigues go on, Michael and Robin recognize that they still have feelings for each other, but resentment and pride is in the way. Both of them learn about forgiveness and the awful consequences they have brought to each other’s life by jumping into conclusions. They must decide whom to trust and how to act; ethics fluctuate with interest, self-motivation and self-gratification, but power shines with money’s glow and it will push them to the limit.  They can either be part of the solution, stopping that monster from devouring the Congolese or allowing themselves to be deceived…

One aspect of the book that I really enjoyed was the accurate historical and social description of the Ituri and Taraja.  Jeanette Windle’s biographical information states that she is the daughter of a missionary family and that she has lived in six countries and traveled to more than twenty. This fact is apparent in the beautiful, vivid and accurate descriptions of the Congolese country; it is obvious that Mrs. Windle has a profound interest in other cultures and in understanding the facts that have shaped their people’s identity.  Not only does the author transport the reader to a luscious green rain forest, but she is also able to share the warmth and richness of life in the simple life of the people living in the Ituri region. I could not get enough of the colors, smiles, drums, singing, rhythmic chores, joy and sense of belonging Mrs. Windle describe of Taraja.  I also appreciate the fact that this does not dilute the reality that many African people have to face – the destruction of their home towns and abuse from people seeking to profit from the resources that should benefit them.  

What amazed me the most is the way people who have been unimaginably tough situations still have a zest for life and are able to grow closer to God as a result of it; I wonder how we might seek to strengthen our own relationship with God, were we to face such tragedies as the people of Taraja have. For instance, conflict is considered as an opportunity to purify His church (p. 168-169), to refine our character (p.275) and to provide an ideal environment where resourcefulness, strength, resilience, ingenuity and generosity will thrive (p.277).  

The author does take a long time to set the story, which makes the start somewhat dreary, but it is well worth putting up with it.  A little more into technique and a personal preference, I appreciate the fact that the author takes her time to finish the story and not leave loose ends to it; many books today seem to want to end on a high note (generally a romantic one), without taking the time to resolve the issues that were crucial in determining the turns of the plot.  It was refreshing to read a book that respects the reader enough to do so.

I would highly recommend this novel as a gift or reference for a study group.  The situations it contains might not be the easiest to cope with, but the richness and sincerity in the Tarajans and their relationship to God is certainly a feature to treasure.  Vocabulary is clean, and although the main characters are attracted to each other, there are no improper situations, making it a good option for most audiences, including older teenagers (please make sure to verify the contents first and be ready for questions).  As a plus, the author includes a series of questions in the end of the book that invite the reader to reflect and analyze attitudes that could turn into good learning experiences if channeled appropriately. Because of the tough questions it addresses and its harmony with Scripture, this book could definitely be used as an evangelizing tool as well. 

It is commendable that in a world where most people prefer reading light stories that just “tickle their ears,” there are authors like Jeanette Windle who care enough to use their talent in order to share the love of God for humans.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange of an honest review.  The latter has not influenced my opinion on the book or on the author.