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MERCY by Lara Santoro

MERCY

By Lara Santoro

Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-59051-271-5
Publisher: Other Press

The life of a burnt-out, boozy, under-performing journalist in Africa is turned around via her involvement with an AIDS campaigner.

In Santoro’s erratic debut, the central character, Anna, is stuck in a self-destructive tailspin, although she can still manage bursts of outrage at the tribulations of the African continent. Transferred from Rome to Nairobi by her Boston-based editor, Anna drinks hard and plays off her angry boyfriend Michael against a smooth lover named Nick, under the disapproving eye of her larger-than-life African housekeeper Mercy. A mood of threat and misery hangs over the pages as Anna goes on assignments which offer the reader vignettes of bribery, disease, poverty, violence and plenty of suffering. After Michael is killed in Sierra Leone, Mercy leaves and Anna goes to New York for the funeral, then on to an assignment in Belgrade, to interview a Serbian war criminal. On her return to Nairobi, she resumes the affair with Nick but also discovers that Mercy has AIDS. Now Anna’s rage can be applied more effectively, by paying and pressuring for Mercy’s treatment which comes—via anti-retroviral drugs—at the eleventh hour. Mercy’s return to health transforms her into an impassioned campaigner for cheaper drugs. Anna, reformed, is full of admiration. The campaign peaks with a one-million-woman march, which forces the health minister to act. But his decision to ban imported drugs and start manufacturing cheap copies means there will be a gap in availability, which condemns Mercy to death. She accepts this and so must Anna, who will take care of her children.

More persuasive as polemic than as fiction.