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Posts Tagged ‘missionary fiction’

41EjOxKJC8LBecause my wife and I work as cross-cultural missional servants in Colombia, I was immediately responsive when a dear reading friend recommended this novel, set as it is in our adoptive South American country. It felt a little bit like the reading version of a blind date.

Yet, truth be told, ‘missionary fiction’ is not a genre that guarantees to quicken the pulse. Often it is wooden, moralistic, and—at times—condescending.

Against such modest expectations, I’m pleasantly surprised by this worthy read. I found Flying Blind to be something of a page-turner.

The story moves along quickly and well. The characters are developed in a way that rings true to certain missionary profiles that persist in spite of all efforts not to caricature because certain kinds of people do indeed end up in this work. Usually, they have a soft heart that’s worth discovering, as do most of the missionary folk who populate Dave Jackson’s pages.

In short, I enjoyed the book and became somewhat wound up in the romantic thread that holds it together.

Yet I have two concerns to register, one historical and the other … well … deeply felt even if I fail to find the right word to describe it.

First, Colombia is (one hopes) finding its way to the end of fifty years of civil war, five decades that have themselves been nourished by persistent political violence since even before this nation and its founders found their way free from Spain’s self-serving yoke. In this context, Colombia’s Army has not often played the protective and positive role that is assigned to it in this novel, even though the author does make a concession to reality in the form of some basic indifference and incompetence on the part of Colombia’s men in uniform. It seems to me that the more positive view of the ‘official’ armed forces in North America (here there are many armed forces) has been mapped onto the very different context in which Jackson sets his story.

Call it a quibble. But reader beware.

My second objection goes deeper. The Spanish that appears in this novel is, well, atrocious. Now it would be unfair to expect a Chicago-based English-speaking author to speak or write Spanish of any kind, let alone to attain a high standard at the craft. But how much would it take for a book like this (and, alas, so many others) to be submitted to the careful eye of a fully bilingual editor before it is allowed the light of day?

The correct answer is: ‘Not much’. Treating people’s language well, even when we do not know them, even when the space we assign to them is the pages of a missionary-themed novel, is one of the ways we respect them. Or fail to.

It simply needs to be done. Lest this seem an unfair criticism, turn it on its head and imagine we find ourselves reading a Latin American novelist’s work in which everybody from the USA speaks really bad English. Ugly, no?

But let me talk myself down from the ledge, at least long enough to reiterate that I thoroughly enjoyed Dave Jackson’s Flying Blind and, with some other reviewers, find it easy to imagine a sequel. One where everybody speaks his or her language well.

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