In Kerstetter’s debut novel, a prominent Washington, D.C., lawyer gets entangled in an African civil war when he moves to the fictional country of Mirembe as counsel for an American oil corporation.
Kerstetter presents a gut-wrenching account of greed, corruption and war in America and Africa. At the novel’s center is ex-military Bobby Harlan, a renowned, hotheaded attorney assigned to assist an American oil company in an African country plagued by AIDS, drugs and civil war. Harlan, a recent widower, has become a heavy drinker and an irresponsible businessman. However, he’s perfect for assisting Apex Oil in their endeavors in Mirembe because of his long-ago college romance with Mirembe’s head of state, Hafsat Oniola. Through artfully crafted prose, Kerstetter shows Harlan’s introduction to Mirembe, its poverty, violence and surprising beauty. The reader sees the cruel “rebels” who rape or mutilate anyone who thwarts their attempts to overthrow the regime. Harlan navigates the political straits of Mirembe first in an effort to solidify Apex Oil’s hold on the Mirembean economy and later, after being fired by his client, in an attempt to quell the disputes between the government and the rebels. Kerstetter is not shy about showing the depravity of the rebels, who constantly hack body parts from their victims. However, he also gracefully portrays the devotion of both armies to the land and to justice, however they perceive it. The novel’s title, a quote from James Merrill’s poem “A Prism,” is a clever choice; both Merrill’s poem and Kerstetter’s novel describe chaotic experiences as leading to a more ordered world. Against this backdrop of lawlessness, Kerstetter has created deliciously complex, morally ambiguous characters. The novel is longer than it needs to be, with many superfluous details. Even so, the author’s masterful juxtaposition of terror and transcendence throughout the tale confirms his skill as a storyteller.
A stunning tale of devastation and deliverance that offers a horrifying glimpse into the terror of guerilla warfare.