Last week something amazing occurred for only the third time in our 13-year marriage—my husband and I read and gave five-star reviews to the same book.
I knew something was up when Marcelo stopped in on his way to work to pick up the copy I had reserved at our local library. When he came home that evening, I saw a piece of paper inserted about 30 pages into the novel.
“What’s with that?” I asked, pointing.
“I thought I’d read just a few words during my lunch break,” he said. “Now I can’t put it down! Do you mind waiting until I’ve had a chance to finish reading the book?”
I was more than intrigued. Marcelo almost never reads fiction, unless it is well researched and written with truth. Having read the book twice, once by myself and a second time to discuss its subtleties with Marcelo, I know that The Road to Makokota (Stephen Barnett, MacAdam/Cage Publishing, 2004) is both.
Set in present-day West Africa, the book’s protagonist is in danger from the first page—from himself and those around him. Craig Allan Hammond has returned to the country, where he built a road 16 years earlier, to search for the woman and child he left behind. Hammond had been able to keep track of them through the letters Kuyateh, an old friend, sent to the States, one every year. Now even those have stopped, and civil war is tearing the country apart.
For the last decade and a half, Hammond has been living in trailers, moving every couple of years and working jobs that don’t mean anything to him. He drinks too much, he smokes too much and he’s known too many women but not enough love. When his mother dies, it hits him—leaving is the only thing he’s gotten good at.
Consumed with fear, guilt and shame, Hammond needs to find Oussumatu Turay and their son, Abu, and bring them out of the killing zone to safety in order to save himself. But if their fate is similar to other villagers, his son likely has died while fighting with one of the child armies while Oussu was murdered after being brutally tortured and raped.
After several days of searching the refugee camps, Hammond has to accept the offer of one-time diplomat Claude Bayeh to buy passage with a group of gunrunners heading toward Makakota, the village where he last saw Oussu and Abu. His traveling companion is Katya, a Polish nurse who has been working in the camps and has her own secrets to hide.
Hammond doesn’t lose his will or ability to love others, even though he still must learn that you can’t always deny and avoid troubling times, as this is the only way to learn certain lessons and receive the gift of a life now richer in meaning. He also must learn that when you don’t forgive yourself, you also hurt those around you.
Author Stephen Barnett is a master at describing Hammond’s journey in chilling detail, in plotting a narrative that is full of subtleties and symbolism, and of developing layers of meaning that are open to interpretation. Barnett also is gifted with the ability to select the right words to convey a meaning. A sampling of some of the book’s strongest lines includes:
“You think you’re just going to show up in hell, ask a few questions and split?”
“People usually have real simple reasons for doing things. They just make them sound complicated.”
“You can kill a man only once, but you can rob him every day of his life.”
“What you see isn’t necessarily the truth.”
“A man is no more than what he is looking for.”
“Just as a great silk-cotton tree casts a great shadow, a great evil casts a great good.”
“I was afraid of life … (of) who I really was under what everyone thought I was.”
“You are not a believer. You must see and know.”
Barnett’s writing is philosophical, stark and gritty, concise and pithy, and graceful and lyrical. He excels in building suspense while making you think and wonder.
If you like novels with an intense, taut storyline that suggest things—that leave scenes unwritten and things unsaid so that you can grow along with the protagonist—The Road To Makokota is both a gripping novel and highly recommended reading. Its surprise ending will keep you thinking and believing.
About the author
Stephen Barnett was a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1970s Sierra Leone, West Africa, where his experiences as an agricultural extension agent formed the background for The Road To Makokota, his first novel. An Ohio native, Barnett lives in Northern California with his wife and daughter.
Support your local library! Ask for a copy of The Road To Makokota. It’s also available at http://www.amazon.com/Road-Makokota-Stephen-Barnett/dp/1931561605.
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|Author Stephen Barnett|