In Borgos’ (Holding Fire, 2016) novel, a man travels to war-torn South Sudan in search of a cancer patient’s biological daughter.
Freelance journalist Archimedes “Archie” Reese has flown home from a job in Washington, D.C., to Boise, Idaho, to visit his mother. While there, he gets an unexpected request from her friend Annie Brody, who’s suffering from leukemia. The cancer treatments haven’t been successful, and she needs to find her daughter in order to get a stem-cell transplant. Unfortunately, she gave up the girl for adoption about 30 years ago and doesn’t even know her name. However, in a bizarre twist, Annie unknowingly chose her biological daughter to be an egg donor years later. Genetic testing of Annie’s son proves this, and with this knowledge and a college track-team photo, Archie manages to find out where Annie’s daughter is. Her name is Beka Halpern, and she’s currently running a USAID camp in South Sudan. Archie flies to Brussels and then South Sudan to track Beka down at Camp Tanping. Although she’s initially unaware of the real reason for Archie’s visit (he wants to break it to her slowly), she allows him to stay at the camp, and she and Archie quickly grow close. It comes to light that a corrupt local politician has been stealing the camp’s supplies, and it’s up to Beka and her driver, Suleyman Elbasha, “a human GPS in a land that Google Earth had not figured out,” to ward off the threat. Meanwhile, the entire country moves toward chaos, and Annie’s life hangs in the balance back home. Borgos’ exciting story manages to capture the heaviness, wonder, and danger of Africa in a smoothly written narrative. It’s full of well-drawn characters, and Borgos provides them with backstories that easily explain their capabilities. There are some unlikely scenarios in this novel; the egg-donor twist, for instance, is particularly bizarre. Still, the author makes them plausible while also telling the story of the ill-fated camp and its swelling population. In scenes with the aforementioned villain, Borgos also deftly illustrates the novel’s larger thematic point: that foreign aid enriches the few while many other people starve.
An impressive novel full of action, politics, and emotion.