In the opening pages of this crisply narrated tale, protagonist Daniel tells us, “I came here, to the City of Peace, because I wanted to see what this fighting was all about…. Where else better to gain a wider understanding of religion and civilization than … in Jerusalem?”
A devout Mormon, Daniel has recently returned from his missionary service and is struggling to reconcile his beliefs and experiences with real world knowledge. The title, Triopia, refers to the three perspectives – Christian, Jewish, and Islamic - that come together in Daniel’s consciousness as he travels with his student group throughout the Middle East.
Early on, he sums up the core issue: “I don’t know where my soul is.” His journey through the war-torn lands is also a journey of discovery, as he searches for answers about his life, his future, and the nature and validity of his religious faith. Surrounded by students similar in age, background, and culture, Daniel ought to find support for his quest easy to come by, but ironically the respect afforded him because of his missionary status actually proves to be an obstacle, forcing him to keep doubts and questions locked away inside himself.
As the young people travel through this historically rich region, author Bryan Richards draws the physical and cultural landscape with a deft hand. In the same uncluttered style, he gives us the supporting cast of characters: fun-loving Nora; sincerely devout Lori; mysterious and self-possessed Anthony. Each of these diverse characters serves as a catalyst to propel Daniel along his path of discovery, and each serves a as metaphor for the person Daniel has been and may become.
Most readers will recognize and understand the urgency and overwhelming need for resolution that Daniel seeks; we’ve experienced it ourselves, if not under identical circumstances, then certainly with identical crises of soul. Encounters with the cultural and religious differences in the exotic and battle-torn locale sometimes appear to provide more enlightenment than Daniel is ready for at this stage of his spiritual growth. While the full impact of these moments doesn't immediately change him, their inclusion in the story is a promising indication that, on some level, Daniel has noted their importance and will return to ponder them at a later time.
The author draws heavily on his own travel and missionary experiences in order to write this coming of age novel. While the book revolves around a Mormon protagonist, this shouldn’t deter non-Mormon readers from enjoying Triopia. In the rare instances where a particular Mormon tradition might be confusing, the author offers brief but thorough explanations.
The writing style is honest and unpretentious, very much in the style of a young man like Daniel. Daily events and descriptions of the places and people read like a journal, written perhaps for the purpose of jogging the author’s memory later. Triopia is a well-conceived and emotionally engaging novel from an author who, one suspects, has many more such stories inside him.