A profound tale of a man’s complex spiritual journey.
In this debut novel, an Irish Catholic priest seemingly questioning his faith seeks enlightenment in Africa with the world’s oldest living race.
Father David Callaghan is considering stepping down from the pulpit. The brutal rape and murder of a childhood friend proved a devastating blow to his altruism. As he ruminates on the human condition, he’s determined to know “what went wrong” with society. Answers may lie with the San people in southern Africa, the oldest race in terms of genetics. David takes a leave from the priesthood and flies to Namibia to join an anthropological team, which includes scientists from Sweden and Norway. Their goal is preserving the San’s endangered languages as well as helping “semi-Westernized” locals re-create the race’s original lifestyle as hunter-gatherers. Though David can’t quite explain his reason for being in Namibia, the priest finds himself unquestionably attracted to anthropologist Marie Steensen. Circumstances later turn unexpectedly dire, as someone fatally stabs a team member and foreign hunters seem intent on abducting a young San boy. David soon has an important decision to make—will he go back to Ireland, and if so, will he return to the church as well? Costa’s deliberately paced story paints a sublime portrait of the real-life San. Readers, for example, learn about their history along with their culture, including trance dances, when the community sings “healing, medicinal songs.” The narrative spotlight turns to David and the research team in the latter half. David’s plight is sympathetic, as he’s also lost his mother. But his intentions in Africa are, as Marie aptly puts it, “a bit confusing.” He merely waits for inspiration to hit, which it eventually—and fortunately—does. The standout among a memorable cast is 80-year-old Elizabeth O’Brien, senior Irish pastoral council member and David’s warmhearted, maternal housekeeper.