Review and Giveaway: Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway

51p771be0cl_sl500_aa240_ Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway is the story of the author’s 2 year stint as a young Peace Corp volunteer in the remote African country of Mali. Kris spends that time as an assistant to 24 year old Monique, a remarkable midwife in the town of Nampossela, where women give birth on a concrete slab then go back to their work in the fields a few hours later, where the maternal and infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the world (1 in 12 mothers die in childbirth, 1 in 5 babies don’t live to see their 5th birthday). There is no running water, no trained doctors, medical equipment or emergency procedures. Food and water are scarce, flies are a constant problem, and malaria, intestinal parasites and AIDS are all too common ailments.

kris_and_moniqueMonique, armed with a few months training, the ability to read, and a happy, willing spirit, fights to keep women alive. She passionately and desperately tries to care for women and children and better their lives under deplorable conditions. There is much information here about the birthing center and midwifery, however it is Kris’s decade-long friendship with Monique that is the heart and soul of this book. They grow close and discuss their lives and emotions on an intimate level reserved for only the very best of friends. Kris writes openly and plainly about her time in Mali, creating an intimate and unsentimental portrait of the people and this beautiful friendship.

Kris meets John, her future husband and another Peace Corps volunteer, in Mali. Their relationship blossoms under the watchful eye of Monique as together they work to renovate the birthing center, cover wells, dig holes for medical waste, and negotiate with community leaders to improve the local healthcare situation.

Monique and the Mango Rains offers so much for a book club to discuss. Themes in the book include family relationships, poverty, religious differences, the place of women in African society, hunger, malnutrition, power struggles, parenting, birth control, marriage, childbirth, volunteerism, and community. Holloway is respectful of the people and their culture and never has that too-frequent American way of being condescending.

I loved this book! It was so inspiring and such a powerful testament to the human spirit and to women’s friendship. Proceeds from sales of this book will help expand the capabilities of a clinic that has since been built in Monique’s name (Clinique Monique), as well as provide school tuition assistance and healthcare for Monique’s children. So I’m going to dig into my wallet and buy one copy of Monique and the Mango Rains to give away to one lucky reader, and I will also donate $1 for every comment left on this post (up to $50) to the cause. $50 won’t change the world, but it is enough to pay for a set of medical instruments!

Please watch this moving short film about Monique, narrated by Kris Holloway.

You can learn more about Monique and the Mango Rains at the book’s beautiful website. Leave a comment here by Tuesday, February 17th, if you’d like to win a copy!

Review: The Leper Compound by Paula Nangle

The Leper Compound by Paula Nangle is not the type of book you can just fly through. In fact I had to read it very sloooowly and pay extremely close attention. At times I felt like I had some form of Reading ADD because I couldn’t stay focused and make sense of what was written. The main character, Colleen, describes how she feels while listening to a preacher at the leper compound, and it accurately describes how I felt reading this book:

After a while she felt cold and sleepy and rocked faintly to the lulling, unfamiliar sounds of someone else’s language, words she recognized leering emptily out of the mist, unconnectible, like the bandanas and coats of lepers in front of her, bright purple and orange, splotches rising up from the mass.”

I could appreciate the beauty of the prose, but it was somewhat “unconnectible” from paragraph to paragraph. It definitely had a lulling quality, but frequently I had no idea who was who or what was going on-and I really was PAYING ATTENTION.

Basically, Colleen is a girl growing up in the last days of Rhodesia (soon to be Zimbabwe) in the very volatile 1970s and 80s, but she is white so she isn’t really involved in the conflict- it rears it’s ugly head here and there, but she is mostly unaffected by it.

Her mother died from malaria when Colleen was 7 years old. Colleen was also sick and it took a year for her to recover. This part of the story is almost hallucinogenic in the way it’s written. Colleen is sent back to boarding school once she is better but is soon separated from her younger sister, who hears voices and is sent away to a special school for the mentally ill.

So much of what goes on in Colleen’s mind is distorted and dream like, which made it particularly difficult for me to feel a connection to her. She seems separate and disconnected from the political activities and violence all around her. She is friendly with many black Africans but they don’t share with her what is really going on, so she is oblivious to what is happening politically. Maybe that is the point.. the minority white culture was clueless to the uprisings and racial unrest for a long time.

I guess this book isn’t so much about what happens, but how the writing makes you feel, because the plot was tricky to decipher throughout much of it. It’s a glimpse into another culture, a volatile time politically that probably would have made much more sense to me if I knew more about that period in Africa’s history. The lush imagery really is gorgeous, the writing complex and dense, but it made me feel dense, too! SO I would recommend this book to someone with a better knowledge of history, or a person with a much higher IQ than mine!

The author, Paula Nangle, was raised by missionaries in the US and southern Africa and is now a psychiatric nurse living in Michigan, so she obviously knows her subject matter well. Her website can be found HERE. I want to thank The Literary Ventures Fund for sending me this book.

Jen at Devourer of Books also reviewed The Leper Compound.  You can read that HERE.