Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cannonball Read Entry #10: If The Rains Don't Cleanse - Ben Patrick Johnson

In the interest of the newly instated full-disclosure thing working it's way through the blogs, I received my copy of of If The Rains Don't Cleanse as a gift from Johnson for the Cannonball Read. That being said, if you're going to dismiss what is probably the most thoroughly-researched and best written book of 2009 based on that alone, you obviously have no place reading books as it is.

Rains is an account of Johnson's parents, both missionary workers in Belgian Congo during the time of Congo's first steps towards independence. Rather than use his actual parents, we are brought into the world trough the eyes of Eva Dunagan, a young woman who travels to Africa with her husband out of a combined sense of duty to the lord and his people and a classic case of wanderlust.

For those expecting a heavy-handed message on the subject of working for the church or for the struggles of a country coming to grips with what it truly means to be independent, you won't find one here. Johnson has spent fourteen years researching for this book, and the amount of care and attention to detail shows. To put that into perspective: fourteen years ago, I was in kindergarten and my mother had The Rachel.

It's a turbulent political climate, but Johnson never falls into the trappings of being preachy or one-sided. He recognizes that the while whites came with advanced medicine and education, it was at the cost of African culture, and while the men of Africa tend to be hostile and violent, you can still see why they would act that way, even if you don't agree with their reasoning. The term grey area works on more than one level here.

The only problem I had with Rains is that if you try to cram 14 years of research and study into 362 pages, you're essentially stuffing ten pounds of sugar into a five pound bag. The result is that side-stories tend to get lost in the shuffle, including the backstory and the romantic relationship between Eva and her husband, Richard. It is a major consolation to know that these subplots are downplayed so that Johnson can tell an ultimately greater and more fulfilling story.

This slight critique aside, it's hard to find fault If The Rains Don't Cleanse, especially when it's so well-intentioned and so beautifully written. It's a powerful story that walks an already delicate political narrative, but when you're this thorough in your work, the results tend to speak for themselves.

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