This is not the Africa of Isak Dinsen or Joy Adamson. This is the Africa of civil wars and tribal massacres, where the Lord’s Resistance Army drafts child-soldiers after forcing them to kill their parents and eat their hearts. The aid workers who voluntarily subject themselves to life here are a breed apart.
Meet Hickey, an American in is late 30s, a school teacher who burned his bridges with the school board, and finds himself in Africa as an itinerant aid worker. Assisting an agency in Nairobi, one of his jobs is to drive food and medical supplies to an aid station in Southern Sudan run by Ruth, a middle-aged woman, who acts as nurse, doctor, hospice provider, feeder of starving children, and witness. Ruth is gruff but efficient and Hickey, who is usually drawn to youth and beauty, is struck by her devotion. When he returns to Nairobi he can’t forget what he has seen.
Violence and chaos in the region increase to fever pitch and aid workers are being murdered or evacuated. Hickey is asked to save Ruth overland by Jeep, and what happens to them and the children who have joined their flight is searing. In this stunning novel, Hoagland paints an unflinching portrait of human suffering at its worst, and yet amidst that suffering there is hope manifested by humility, sacrifice, and life-affirming friendship.
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