A young, born-again, American evangelical goes to Guatemala in 1983 to study Spanish in preparation for future work as a missionary, but his experiences over the subsequent three months in a country run by the fundamentalist dictator Gen. José Efraín Ríos Montt shock, frighten and ultimately challenge him to question his faith.
Kasten’s novel is unapologetically political, a vehicle for presenting “an object lesson for those who think theocracy leads to peace and justice.” As such, it suffers from occasional plot contrivances. But her well-crafted prose and attention to detail bring Kit Lamb to life. The third-person narration is from Kit’s perspective, blending his current experiences with memories of the troubled life—and salvation—that brought him to the small town of Antigua. Kasten offers poignant portrayals of the indigenous population, as well as detailed descriptions of clothing, colors and landscapes. These create vibrant images that convey a sense of being with Kit as he walks the narrow streets and wanders the hillsides. An amateur artist, Kit sketches portraits of children in the center plaza, connecting with them even before his studies begin. His artist’s eye for nuance and inherent compassion compel him to notice the discrepancies between Montt’s stated fundamentalist doctrine and the reality of indigenous life in Guatemala. Colleen, a 20something American girl, is seated next to Kit on the plane. She serves as the love interest as well as the catalyst for the upheavals and discoveries that propel Kit through the tortuous journey from a naïve boy to a self-sufficient young man. He struggles against her obvious contempt for his religious devotion, determined to save her soul from eternal damnation, even as he finds himself drawn to her physically. Ultimately, it is Kit’s relationship with Colleen that results in his first-hand experience with the brutality of the Rios Montt regime.
An engrossing, provocative novel.