This extraordinary novel is Biblical in portent, unflinching in the face of evil, burrowing through disaster after disaster until it relinquishes its hold and surrenders at last to blessed respite. Checkmate. For each atrocity in this world, there is an opposite, a deliverance. But author Stephen Barnett reaches beyond what is humanly possible, desperate to attain that place of grace, of peace.
When Craig Allan Hammond returns to Africa sixteen years after participating in a road -building project, it is to reclaim the young woman he left behind, Ossumatu, and their son, Abu. A black American, Hammond has searched for love and found none, pursuing dead-end relationships only to realize that he walked away from the one woman he loved and left all those years ago in Africa. The Africa Hammond remembers no longer exists. Instead, his once familiar landscape is scarred by violence; civil war has decimated the population, leaving vast camps of sick and starving people waiting for death to end their suffering. The land he so fondly remembers has become a killing zone, with warring factions indiscriminately slaughtering each other.
Given the opportunity, Hammond buys passage with an entourage of gunrunners heading toward Makokota, the village where Hammond left Ossumatu and Abu. Along with a Polish nurse, Hammond joins the raggedy caravan in spite of the danger inherent in traveling with such a group in this lawless land. Things quickly turn ugly, and Hammond and the nurse barely escape in a stolen vehicle, driven to escape through the bush.
On this unbelievable journey, which Barnett describes in chilling detail, Hammond is stripped of everything he owns, pared down to an intimate awareness of pain, loss, death and renewal. But none of these changes occurs without unremitting agony and the unraveling of past beliefs and self-serving assumptions of identity and purpose.
Hammondís journey is intensely physical, graphic in nature; reality is almost literally peeled away. He struggles through days and nights of delirium, images and memory haunting his dreams as he stumbles again and again, refusing to surrender to the darkness. The author beautifully details Hammondís physical and spiritual transformation in the arms of Africa, his harsh but loving caretaker. The man who began the quest for lover and son no longer exists; his mission is rewarded in unexpected ways, certainly not within his experience or expectations.
Africa is a chameleon, constantly changing in an attempt to survive the vicious attacks on natural resources that spell doom for a people become fodder for militant power plays. The writing is brilliant, sensitive and extremely painful. But like the protagonist, the reader cannot comprehend this distant, troubled continent without the willingness to stare into a terrible, dark reality. On the other side of this journey is the transcendent beauty of a people and place relentlessly pounded into oblivion, yet shimmering with life like a mirage.