Good writing, good subject, interesting characters. I liked the description of this region of the world, of the conflicting interests and unknown downsides of NGOs. I liked how prejudices (including mine) are put to the test and revealed for what they are.
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58 internautes sur 62 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
"Sudan...cut off from normal standards...under harsher rules."5 mai 2005
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Setting this almost 700-page novel in Sudan and neighboring Kenya, Philip Caputo details the massive aid efforts of non-government organizations (NGOs) from around the world to bring aid into an area so dangerous that the UN will not enter. Using bush pilots and small airlines from Kenya, the NGOs fly into southern Sudan and land on hidden landing strips. The Muslim government of Sudan, located to the north in Khartoum, has long been at war with the oil-rich, largely Christian south, and atrocities, thoroughly described here, occur on a regular basis--the abduction of children for children's armies, the rape and enslavement of women, the maiming and mutilation of the healthy, the cutting off of food and water, and the theft of crucial medical supplies.
Caputo's large cast of characters consists of relief workers in Nuba, an oil-rich area in Sudan--Christian evangelists who bring aid and wish to convert the inhabitants; the International People's Aid group, a humanitarian group from Canada, run by a former Catholic priest; German Emergency Doctors, which operates a local hospital; and the mercenary pilots and owners of small airlines which service the area--along with members of the SPLA; a local Arab warlord allied with the Khartoum government; and members of the international press, most notably CNN.
The novel has a three-fold, rather than single focus--the very real atrocities of war and the real corruption of the Sudanese and Kenyan governments; the real, marginal lives, and real tribal and religious conflicts of the Sudanese people; and the fictional lives, backgrounds, and relationships of the characters. Well over two hundred pages are devoted to the backgrounds of fictional characters, including, sometimes, even the backgrounds of the characters' parents. The characters are people of action and impulse, however, not of thought and contemplation, and it is their actions, not thoughts or past history, which drive the novel. Judicious editing of the lengthy background material, especially at the beginning, could have shortened the novel significantly, tightened it thematically, and improved it dramatically. The three love stories draw in the reader and keep the interest high, but they are given as much space here as the real struggles of the real Sudanese of Nuba.
Caputo's intentions are to publicize the horror of this Sudanese civil war, but he also wants to show that "In Sudan the choice is never between the right thing and the wrong thing but between what is necessary and what isn't"--an ethical conundrum which conflicts with absolute, conventional values and shows the magnitude of the problems. Planes flying aid are sometimes used to smuggle weapons; the desire to save lives on a massive scale sometimes involves the sacrifice of lives on a small scale.
Caputo's vision of man's inner nature is dark. When even a high-minded evangelical makes expedient decisions with horrifying results, and when intense love slowly sputters out, then what is left? Caputo does not provide those answers, nor does the structure of the novel. In a conclusion dependent upon coincidence and melodrama, the reader is left with the idea that in a conflict between good and evil, the best one can hope for is a toss-up. (3.5 stars) Mary Whipple
17 internautes sur 18 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Minor problems do not sidetrack brilliant book15 août 2005
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I found this book totally fascinating. I have no background in the culture, environment, or political situation of the Sudan; yet, I feel I have in some sense been there. Caputo provides a multi-layered picture of the people and places of this war-torn country. My mind's eye could easily envision the land and people; I could almost taste and smell the dust and sweat and had clear mental images of the major characters. The political situation is nothing short of a mess: "In Sudan the choice is never between the right thing and the wrong thing but between what is necessary and what isn't"
I found the characters, however, to be closer to symbols for the many factions working in Africa than real people. The dialogue was particularly distracting in places; it just didn't ring true. Nevertheless, these characters well depicted the forces at work -- the American do-gooder, the war lord, the cynic, the evangelist, the rebel leader, the old-rich, the new-rich, and the victim.
One review suggested that Caputo could better tell the story as non-fiction. He is certainly knowledgeable, and after doing a bit of research, the situation in the Sudan seems accurately presented. His strength is not in writing dialogue that is true; however, I would never have read this book if it wasn't presented as a novel. The relationships developed by the characters keep a reader's interest while providing a sound picture of the Sudan.
I loved the title of the book and if there is one thing I will definitely take from the book, it is the illustration of the conviction and fervor of those who were certain they were right -- so certain that the consequences never matter. At the same time, there are those who were never sure of the decisions they had to make, yet they acted. Both could be said to be carrying out acts of faith. Some because they were sure and others because there is simply nothing else to do.
34 internautes sur 40 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
American Acts Of Faith Brings Acts of Destruction in Sudan4 mai 2005
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The best of Philip Caputo's writings concern the chaos and madness of war. His previous books were born out of his experiences as a Vietnam War veteran (see "A Rumor Of War" - 1977 and "Indian Country" - 1987). This time he writes about a war different from his own with masterful results.
He places his American characters in the ugly civil war that turn into genocide in the Sudan. As in Vietnam, his Americans believe that they have the answers and know what is best for the local Sudanese. They don't, and from that premise their growing involvement will bring tragedy by the close of the novel.
His storytelling of American do-gooders in way over their heads approaches epic proportions. It has riveting characters whom the reader will care about their respective fates. This is a long tale at nearly 700 pages -- it is double the length of his other books. "Acts of Faith" will hold your interest and haunt you long after you have set it down for the last time.
13 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
War is a fact of life. And the line between right and wrong is never clear.15 octobre 2005
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I could say that this brand new book by a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist is as fresh as today's headlines. But then again, the troubles in Sudan rarely make actual headlines. Rather, life there just goes on and on with seemingly unending problems. War is a fact of life and has been for centuries. The only difference now is that guns and bombs have replaced spears as weapons of choice.
Philip Caputo has taken on a big challenge with this novel. He had to create fictional non-Sudanese characters that would not only be real, but who could also be typical of the aid workers and opportunists attracted to the Sudan. He also tried to explain what it must be like to be Sudanese amidst the depths of upheaval and starvation that is a daily reality. His point of view, however, is through western eyes; the targeted audience are people like myself who are interested in expanding their understanding of peoples and places outside of their experience.
In order to achieve his goal, he created a handful of memorable characters. Quinette is an evangelical Christian from Iowa. She wants to do the right thing and help people. And she thinks that her church group's mission to purchase slaves in order to free them is good deed. She doesn't see how this action can perpetrate slave trade. However, as she continues to live in the Sudan, fall in love with a rebel leader, and get caught up in some controversial actions herself, she soon discovers the hard choices that have to be made.
There are two other American characters. One is Douglas Braithwaite, who starts up an small-plane airline to deliver aid to the Sudanese. Another is Wesley from Texas, one of his pilots. Another pilot is the attractive Canadian woman, Mary. We see their story told through the eyes of Fitzhugh Martin, a mixed-race Kenyan who was once an UN aid worker but now works for the airline. And then thre is Ibrahim Idris, an Arab warlord on a holy mission. We get a glimpse into his life and start to understand him a bit although we never really like him. The book is a long 669 pages and so there is lots of time to develop these characters. After a while I felt I knew each of them.
I loved the book. It was a good read. And I learned something too. Mostly, I learned that there are no easy answers. Every action leads to more and more complexities and the line between right and wrong is always very indistinct.
9 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
The Truth Comes Out of Us All22 mai 2005
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Acts of Faith will be compared by many to the epic books about how people under stress in exotic circumstances reveal themselves such as The Quiet American. In this case, the stress in question is the desire to do the right thing . . . in a place and time when you will be tempted to let the ends justify the ends.
The war in the Sudan is the centerpiece of Acts of Faith. In this 660+ page novel, Mr. Caputo leisurely lulls you into taking sides against the Arab slavers . . . but reels you into realizing that the Christian do-gooders don't have clean hands either.
The story has several narrators. The most important is Fitzhugh Martin, a multiracial Kenyan who simply wants to have a job, but gains a purpose in life through serving the Sudanese. But Fitzhugh gets more than he bargained for when he joins the zealous American, Doug Braithwaite, in establishing a bush airline to deliver humanitarian supplies. Fitzhugh's perspective is the reader's lifeline back to the reality outside of the Sudan and the passions of the characters. Wesley Dare narrates from the perspective of a bush pilot whose altruism is tempered by the desire to make a big score and leave Africa forever. Quinette Harden narrates from the viewpoint of an ordinary American Christian woman who finds herself drawn to the unfolding struggle, particularly in rescuing slaves. She goes with the flow and becomes sucked into an unexpected life like quicksand. Finally, Ibrahim Idris ibn Nur-el-Din presents the Sudanese Arab perspective as he pursues his twin goals of keeping power and regaining his favorite female slave.
The core of the story revolves around a small area in the Nuba Mountains in central Sudan where a tiny medical mission has been tending to those fleeing from the Arab attacks on the black Africans in southern Sudan. The vulnerability of the mission and its patients quickly draws the sympathy of those who are new to the area. But the Sudanese government won't allow aid to reach the mission. The United Nations has a policy of requiring permission to fly in, and won't supply aid because Sudan opposes it. That leaves the desperate people there in need of help. Drawn initially by idealism, some of the bush pilots decide to supply aid. Funding isn't a problem. And the Sudanese government doesn't try very hard to stop the flights.
But as time passes, the needs of those in the Nuba Mountains change and grow. Those who have committed to helping them find themselves tempted to do more . . . than perhaps they should.
The book is filled with little moral challenges and lessons. An ethics teacher could use this book for years to generate interesting moral questions to consider.
Ultimately, though, the book is about peeling back the veneer of who we appear to be . . . to reveal who we really are. The character developments of Quinette Martin and Wesley Dare are masterful. The other characters are developed much less well. That was a disappointment because clearly Mr. Caputo has the skills to do more in this regard. Many of the characters, by comparison, are barely-sketched-in cardboard figures who simply tie the plot together. The problem seems to be that Mr. Caputo prefers to develop his characters through plot rather than by using revealed thoughts and selected background. The exception is Doug Braithwaite where selected background is used to try to reveal a lot, but the effect doesn't quite work as smoothly as it might.
Many will find this book to be ponderous and wish it were shorter. I didn't mind the length, but much of the plot development was predictable which made some parts a little more tedious than they might have been.
But Mr. Caputo is generous in his observations about the mixed nature of good and evil . . . and our tendency to justify ourselves in doing as we please. That's what made this book rewarding for me.