Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Missionary review

My mom read this book before I did, and her reaction was, "I was kind of expecting more of a Christian message at the end."

I think I hemmed and hawed for a few moments before trying to tell her that dropping a churchy-stamped anvil on a reader's head is not what most writers are going for. Then I actually read the book. You know what? She was right.

The Missionary, by William Carmichael and David Lambert, was kind of a mixed bag for me, but my reaction was positive overall. And truth be told, there are a lot of good messages you can draw from it. How the decisions we make affect the people around us. Reliance on God. Trust in marriage. These themes are tucked into a plot that was a lot more like a spy-thriller than the Amish fiction-esque story I was expecting (I guess I didn't read the back, or look too closely at the cover).

The story is about David Eller, a missionary in modern-day Venezuela who leads a mission that shelters orphans. David is bitter at the system that puts so many children on the streets, and when he gets a chance to attack the disease instead of the symptoms, he takes it. Things get complicated quickly.

There's a lot of descriptive detail in here - technical details of plans and operations, down to the weapons. Also, a rather strange tendency to give the height and weight of most of the characters you meet. Perhaps that fits the way the military characters think. I thought it was weird. Some of the details build to vivid moments, which is good, and sometimes the models of the machine guns or whatever went over my head. Tastes will vary.

One thing I didn't like was that some characters only existed for plot advancement. It fits with the movement and variety, which feels intentional, but there are a few characters I wanted more well-rounded -- David's father and brother, for instance. There were a lot of elements in this, characters among them, that were used and then concluded without the mind-boggling connections and purpose I like in a plot-heavy book. Not everything gets explained, which I liked okay, and there were a few good surprises, but sometimes I wanted more explanations and connections that could have given thematic unity -- the "message" I felt was missing at the end.

It never gets back to David's mission; after a while, helping the poor impoverished children fades away. Sure, his life and loved ones were in danger, but the story didn't follow up on the consequences of his actions on his ministry. I guess there were other things to talk about, but I bet it could have been skillfully woven in, again, leading to a more solid ending.

Still, the things the authors did led to an action-packed and exciting book. You empathize with important characters, even some rough mercenary types, and the Christianity isn't forced. (Actually, I thought it could have taken a more central role toward the end.) I liked the complexity and beauty in the Ellers' relationship, and there are a few moments where the prose itself sparkles (and a few where it tries, but falls flat). If anything I've said here intrigues, you might want to give it a look.

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