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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

LOST MISSION: A Review

        Prior to beginning my blog in September of 2009, I was only marginally aware of Christian literature.  I was certainly familiar with the LEFT BEHIND series and I knew about C.S. Lewis and Tolkein, but I had never read much fiction that was filed under the Christian label.  After coming across a number of blogs by Christian writers and those others who are associated with Christian authors I started getting my education about Christian fiction.

            Recently I read LOST MISSION by Athol Dickson and the book blew me away. Here was a book that dealt with tough issues and made me think.  The focus is not overt in-your-face Bible thumping or theological analysis.  This book is good story telling with well-drawn realistic characters who will stay with you. Before I started reading the book I had seen Dickson compared to one of my favorite authors, Flannery O'Conner.  I can certainly see that comparison, as well as the elements of  magical realism that often crop up in the story.  Athol Dickson also effectively surprises the reader with a juxtapositon of characters and cultures that creates a dramatic tension and drives the suspense of the story.

          LOST MISSION actually deals with two parallelling main story lines that span two centuries.  The first concerns Spaniards who enter into what is later to become California in order to establish a mission.  This story centers around Fray Alejandro, a Franciscan friar who finds himself torn between his obeisance to his church and his faithfulness to his real mission to show compassion to the indigenous pagan tribes whom he is trying to reach.  He becomes tormented by his assigned task to complete a painting of the crucifixion for the church sanctuary.

            Over two hundred years later, this unfinished painting ends up in the hands of Lupe de la Garza, a poor shopkeeper in a small town in Mexico. She becomes convinced through what she sees in magazines and on television that the United States is a pagan nation that needs to be saved.  With Fray Alejandro's unfinished painting as the only possession that she carries, she travels the route of the illegal immigrants to make her way to Southern California.  Here she becomes involved with an assortment of fascinating and tragic characters who all become affected by Fray Alejandro and his unfinshed painting.

             In the book we meet a Mexican man who has illegally gone north to make a better life for his family, a minister who feels called to help those in the barrio but becomes misguided in his love for a woman, and an immensely wealthy man whose vengefully grandiose plans lead to horrifying consequences.  The book is filled with fateful romance, suspenseful action, and an apocalypic climax.

           I was somewhat confused as the story started, but  I was quickly hooked as I began to understand what was happening.  Also there was the initial distraction of the author's intrusion into the story.  Each chapter begins with Fray Alejandro's story in the late 1700's, then transitions into present time where most of the chapters take place.  This transition is achieved in the author's voice which distracted me at first, but after the second chapter I became used to this technique and actually Dickson uses the technique so skillfully that I rather liked it.  I'm not sure how these transitions could have been done better.

        Athol Dickson is a masterful writer.  The way he creates his characters allows the reader to become very close to all of them, especially Lupe and Alejandro--I absolutely fell in love with their simple faith and their desire to do what is right. The sense of place is vivid.  Dickson created places I could see clearly in my mind and I felt as though they were places where I had been before. The story is creative, striking, and imaginative.  The entire concept of the way the stories distanced centuries apart were woven together was ingenious and despite what could be construed as coincidence, I found to be acceptably believable.

         The story is rooted in history, but with issues that are relevant to us today. These characters have stories much like those I read about in the paper and hear about on the news.  There is some thought-provoking controversy that may make you rethink some of your previously held notions. The book will entertain you, but will also stay with you long after you have finished reading it.

          I would strongly recommend LOST MISSION to consider for any of the serious readers on your Christmas list.  There is nothing offensive that would make this book inappropriate for mature younger readers.  Also, non-Christians could find this to be very good reading and to relegate the novel strictly to the Christian fiction section is doing it a great injustice.  And by all means, don't forget to pick up a copy of LOST MISSION for yourself.  If you haven't read anything by Athol Dickson before, you, like me, may be looking forward to reading another one of his highly acclaimed novels.

          Be sure to read my interview with Athol Dickson in this blog tomorrow.  I asked him some of the things that came to my mind about LOST MISSION as well as other questions about writing.

LOST MISSION
Product Details

Howard Books, September 2009
Trade Paperback, 368 pages
ISBN-10: 1416583475
ISBN-13: 9781416583479



7 comments:

  1. If you're looking for challenging and interesting fiction that deals with themes of faith, you might want to look at Silence, by Shusaku Endo. It's by turns fascinating and frightening. Well worth a read.

    Thanks for bringing Lost Mission to my attention, good sir.

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  2. Yikes, that's an amazing review! I haven't read this particular book, but I have read Dickson before and he's a masterful writer. I'll have to try to get a hold of this. Thanks for the review!

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  3. An author and a book I've never heard of. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

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  4. That was a well writen review. I'm intrigued, will have to look out for the book.

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  5. I have this amazing book in my TBR pile. I promised myself the luxury of reading as soon as I finish my first draft.

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  6. Thanks for the great recommendation. I'm going to look up this author.

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  7. It's serendipity that you found and commented on my blog! First, your very kind words, then the discovery that you were reviewing my very favorite author! I'm glad you enjoyed it and now you must read "A River Rising" It is one of the only books that I have given over and again as gifts.

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