Sunday, December 3, 2017

Review: The Atlas of Forgotten Places by Jenny D. Williams

Title: The Atlas of Forgotten Places
Author: Jenny D. Williams
Year Published: 2017


Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 351 (plus glossary and notes)
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map): Uganda and The Democratic Republic of Congo

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money


Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Two women from different worlds, bound in a quest to save their loved ones. After a long career as an aid worker, Sabine Hardt has retreated to her native Germany for a quieter life. But when her American niece, Lily, disappears while volunteering in Uganda, Sabine must return to places and memories she once thought buried in order to find her.

In Uganda, Rose Akulu--haunted by a troubled past with the Lord's Resistance Army and a family torn apart by war--is distressed when her lover, Ocen, vanishes wihout a trace. Side by side, Sabine and Rose must unravel the tangled threads that tie Lily's and Ocen's lives together, ultimately discovering that the truth of their loved ones' disappearance is inescapably entwined with the secrets the two women carry.

Review: I'll confess that I partly chose to read this book because it is set in Uganda and that would add another country to my list before the end of the year. I also chose it because it seems to be getting good reviews all over the place! It turns out those reviews are correct.

What an intense book; when I finished I just sat on my couch in a stupor, my mind trying to process what I'd just read. I got so invested in both women (and the supporting characters) that the book ending took me by surprise. While I feel like I got to know Sabine better (she's louder, more outgoing, and more outspoken), Rose also endeared herself to me through her quiet approach to life, her secrets, and her humility.

In the author's note at the back of the book she reminds the reader that this is a work of fiction that is based heavily on reality. The attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA, led by Joseph Kony) are real, the experiences of those who are kidnapped are true, and the role of the various other agencies that play a role in the book are also true to life. And this is all evident when reading the book; it feels immediate and as if we can imagine it happening at that moment. 

Kony and the LRA have been in and out of the news over the past 20 years or so. Their actions seem so beyond what most of us can imagine, but for hundreds of thousands of Ugandans, and now Congolese as well, it is more than real. Families have been torn apart, children turned into soldiers, villages burned, and more. What I think is so good about this book is that we feel all of this without having to read the details. We know what's going on with it being shoved in our faces. The characters' experiences soak into the story giving it weight.

Challenges for which this counts:

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