Another well-researched psychologically astute novel from Rogers (Island, 2000, etc.).
An intriguing counterpoint is set up here between the present and the past. In 1999, Anne Harrington is taking the body of her father, a vicar, by ship from Nigeria to England for burial; and, while aboard the ship, she reads her father’s Nigeria journals, set in the early 1960s, when he was a missionary there. Wandering at night on the ship, Anne discovers Joseph, a Nigerian stowaway, who leads her to his deathly ill pregnant wife and begs her to keep their presence secret. Anne’s naiveté leads to disastrous results. She tries to help, giving the woman antibiotics and enlisting the first mate—who, seizing upon his advantage, beds her and then tells her the whole crew knows she is a “slag.” Shamed, and with no recourse, she’s incapable of finding out what has happened to the woman and her unborn child; all she knows is that crew members hate stowaways because they’re fined if a ship is found carrying them. Anne doesn’t reveal where Joseph is, and hopes that he has survived the voyage. Meanwhile, in her father’s journal, she discovers his secrets: after she was born, he had gotten a Nigerian woman pregnant and been removed from his position; her mother had had an affair with his boss; this is why he never visited them after the divorce. Given a second chance, he ends up in Biafra, caring for the mangled soldiers and starving children of the civil war. Back home in England, Anne is able to track down Joseph, who has indeed made it to England, but he wants nothing to do with her. Filled with guilt, she suffers a breakdown. In a final twist, four years later, she ends up married, submissive once again, and struggling to bear a child. In her father’s journal, she discovers a final secret: on his last day alive, her father learned that his Nigerian daughter had been sold into prostitution in Italy.
A complex story exploring the moral repercussions of acting or not acting.