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Acts of Faith


Acts of Faith Cover

ISBN13: 9780375725975
ISBN10: 0375725970
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. Acts of Faith opens with an interview with Fitzhugh Martin that takes place several years after the events recounted in the novel. How does this set the tone for the story that follows? What issues does it raise about the war in Sudan and the efforts, both military and humanitarian, to bring it to an end?

2. The meeting at Diana Briggs?s home [pp. 21?32] brings to light various reasons for helping the rebels in the south. How would you characterize the positions taken by Diana, John Barrett, Douglas Braithwaite, and Fitzhugh Martin? Which argument is objectively the most persuasive? Which one carries the most emotional impact?

3. Barrett declares, ?Allah gives his stamp of approval to mass murder? and describes the war as ?a continuation of the Crusades. The crescent versus the cross? [p. 25]. Is his opinion justifiable on the basis of recent historical events, or does it represent a narrow-minded Western view of Islam? Is it possible to separate religion and politics in Sudan and other places torn by conflicts among different ethnic or religious groups?

4. What first impression does Douglas Braithwaite make? What qualities does he project that lead Fitzhugh to say, ?There was something about the American that made you not want to let him down? [p. 32]? Are any of Douglas?s less attractive qualities apparent at this first meeting?

5. Wesley Dare observes, ?it was faith in some particular creed, sect, ideology, cause, or crusade? [p. 34] that spurred the violence he has witnessed over twenty-five years as a bush pilot. Fitzhugh talks about ?the calm of an abiding conviction? of the evangelical missionaries and wishes he too had ?some sort of inner resource that he could draw on? [p. 58]. How do their differing views of faith affect their feelings about Douglas and their willingness to follow his lead?

6. Do the ?acts of faith? in the novel necessarily lead to negative consequences? Are there characters whose actions demonstrate that ?abiding convictions? can motivate heroic behavior and express basic human decency in the face of the unspeakable?

7. What does the conversation between Tara and Douglas [pp. 70?72] reveal about the strengths and weaknesses of the American?s approach to crisis situations? What realities does Tara recognize that Douglas refuses to accept? Are there times as the story unfolds that Douglas?s direct manner and almost childlike candor bring to light moral imperatives that the other characters seem to ignore?

8. In contemplating the history of Sudan, Fitzhugh says, ?What was it about this place that created visionaries of all kinds, warrior-prophets and warrior-saints, messiahs true and false? . . . Was Tara right in saying that Sudan?s distances conjure up mirages of the mind, its boundless horizons inspiring men to imagine that anything is possible? . . . And what is it about this place that even as it molds true believers out of its native clay, it also draws true believers from elsewhere?? [p. 104?105]. Is there a basic truth in this poetic, even spiritual, view of Sudan? How much of a country?s personality stems from its history and geography? Can an argument be made that nineteenth-century European imperialism in Africa was, at least in part, an expression of optimism and hope rather than simply a drive for economic and political dominance?

9. Several of the chapters focusing on Quinette are titled ?Redeemer.? On one level this refers to her job of liberating slaves captured by Arab raiders. What else does it suggest about Quinette?s motivations for being in Sudan, about the character of her faith, and about her eventual willingness to cross the line between good works and illegal activities? What events bring to light the ambiguous nature of her devotion to the humanitarian and religious causes with which she is involved?

10. What role does Phyllis, the CNN reporter, play in the novel? Is she a foil for the others, especially Quinette? Does she represent the cynicism of the press? Or does she represent a viable ethical?or political?position in her own right?

11. Both Wesley [pp. 173 and 405, for example] and Fitzhugh [pp. 261 and 457] are well aware of Douglas?s faults, yet they choose to ignore them. Which man is clearer and more consistent about his reasons for staying with Knight Air? Does this give his arguments a greater moral weight?

12. Douglas and Quinette embody many of the characteristics thought of as typically American, from their enthusiastic, can-do style to their dangerous naïveté and self-righteous arrogance. How does Caputo keep them from becoming stereotypes? Do his descriptions of their backgrounds, for example, make them more sympathetic characters? What effect do the decisions they make at the end of the novel have on your feelings about each of them? Do they to some extent ?redeem? themselves?

13. The chapters about Ibrahim Idris provide an unusual perspective on Islamic history and politics in Africa. What parallels are there between the aspirations of both sides in the conflict? Is Caputo evenhanded in describing the faults?as well as the ideals?of each side? Did these chapters change your understanding of the upheavals taking place in much of the Muslim world today?

14. There are three love affairs at the heart of Acts of Faith: the relationships between Quinette Hardin and Michael Goraende, Wesley Dare and Mary English, and Fitzhugh Martin and Diana Briggs. How does each relationship represent an act of faith? Which of these unlikely alliances is the most credible? Are any of the characters completely honest with themselves?and with their lovers?about the reasons for their romantic attachments? What ulterior, perhaps even unconscious, motives might you ascribe to each of them?

15. Michiko Kakutani calls Acts of Faith ?a parable about American excursions abroad and the dangers of missionary zeal, a Conradian tale about idealism run amok, greed sold as paternalistic benevolence, ignorance described as compassion? (The New York Times, May 3, 2005). How accurately does the book portray the failure of humanitarian efforts around the world, both by the UN and by private agencies? Does it present a convincing portrait of the way America is perceived today?

16. Philip Caputo?s best-known book, A Rumor of War, is a memoir of his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam and a meditation on what war does to ordinary soldiers. To what extent can Acts of Faith be seen as a return to?or a continuation of?the questions explored in that book? Why has Caputo, a journalist who covered the wars in Sudan, chosen to write a novel rather than a nonfiction account of what he saw?

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Brenda Harrison, June 21, 2007 (view all comments by Brenda Harrison)
Philip Caputo is a masterful author. He takes you through a complicated story and makes you a part of it. He does not disappoint. The story evolves and the ending is done with thoughtful attention to detail. I'm tired of reading books only to have it fall apart at the end and Caputo in " Acts of Faith" took care of his reader.

I consider this book as one of the 10 best that I have ever read.
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(2 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

Caputo, Philip
Vintage Books USA
War & Military
Psychological fiction
Literature-A to Z
fiction;sudan;africa;novel;war;human rights;literature;missionaries
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage Contemporaries
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8 x 5.2 x 1.4 in 1.315 lb

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Popular Fiction » Contemporary Thrillers
Fiction and Poetry » Popular Fiction » Military
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

Acts of Faith Used Trade Paper
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Product details 688 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780375725975 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Caputo's ambitious adventure novel, set against a backdrop of the Sudanese wars, makes for a dense, riveting update on Graham Greene's The Quiet American. The American in this case is Douglas Braithwaite, a 'mercenary with a conscience' who founds Knight Air, a charter airline that conveys relief supplies from NGOs to war-torn southern Sudan. Braithwaite launches his service by flying aid to the Nuba, a region in the northern Sudanese sphere of influence that is a no-go zone for U.N.-sponsored airlines. He hires Fitzhugh Martin, a former soccer star and mixed-race Kenyan from the Seychelles Islands, as his operations manager, and soon teams up with Texan bush pilot Wes Dare as well as a shady Somali financier. From Fitzhugh's perspective, we see corruption ensue from Douglas's decision to expand his air service — crushing his competitor, Tara Whitcomb, in the process — and to smuggle arms to Michael Goraende, the Nuban militia head. Douglas's support for the Nuban commander also brings Quinette Hardin, a Christian aid worker from Iowa who marries Goreande, into Knight Air's orbit. Caputo presents a sharply observed, sweeping portrait, capturing the incestuous world of the aid groups, Sudan's multiethnic mix and the decayed milieu of Kenyan society. Though this long atmospheric novel offers a very slow build and doesn't always avoid formula, the understated climax that leads to Knight Air's demise is powerful in its impact. Agent, Aaron Priest. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "In Acts of Faith Philip Caputo has fashioned a gripping cast of characters and placed them in a spellbinding story. You can't get any better than that."
"Review" by , "Philip Caputo, from Vietnam onwards, has understood the hardest truths of the modern world better than almost anybody. Acts of Faith is a stunningly unflinching novel. On the surface it is set in Africa, but in fact its true landscape is the ravaged soul of the twenty-first century. Philip Caputo is one of the few absolutely essential writers at work today."
"Review" by , "This is a big novel, old fashioned in the best way, full of intrigue and a large cast of sharply drawn characters. And with a Sudan cease-fire recently in the news, it couldn't be timelier."
"Review" by , "Acts of Faith offers an image of Africa deserving comparison with Conrad, Hemingway, Peter Matthiessen, and Jan de Hartog's forgotten near-masterpiece The Spiral Road."
"Review" by , "Caputo's devastating new novel...will be to the era of the Iraq war what Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American became to the Vietnam era."
"Review" by , "Philip Caputo's Sudan is a place drawn so real, dust and despair fall from the pages....So beautiful, so awful, so authentic, so wonderful, so hopeless, it grieves the heart."
"Review" by , "Destined to be a generation-defining book."
"Review" by , "A miracle....You can hardly conceive of a more affecting reading experience."
"Review" by , "Philip Caputo is a splendid, muscular story teller who possesses the crucial power to make endearing ordinary men from diverse fragilities and stubborness."
"Review" by , "Caputo lets no one and nothing off the hook."
"Synopsis" by , From the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, author of the highly praised novels The Voyage and Horn of Africa — a stunning, timely new novel about the physical perils and moral crises faced by a group of men and women who try to relieve the suffering caused by war and famine in contemporary Sudan.

Douglas Braithwaite, an American aviator who flies medicine and food from Kenya to Sudan's ravaged south, feels himself beginning to take sides in the conflict. Flying with him: Wesley Dare, a hard-bitten bush pilot who sacrifices all for the woman he loves; Fitzhugh Martin, a multiracial Kenyan who sees Sudan as a cause with which he can rejuvenate his directionless life; Quinette Hardin, an evangelical Christian from Iowa working to buy slaves back from the Arab raiders, who falls in love with a Sudanese rebel; Diana Briggs, a daughter of a family with colonial roots in Africa, who believes that her love for her adopted continent might be enough to save it.

These and the other vividly realized characters who populate the blasted landscape of this riveting novel are unwitting combatants in the classic confrontation between Westerners and the third world. As they plunge into a well of moral corruption for which they are ill prepared, we see how their hidden flaws conspire with circumstances to turn their strengths — bravery, compassion, daring, empathy — into weakness, their altruism curdling into self-righteous zealotry and greed, leading them to conspiracy, and, finally, to murder. Grounded in the hard reality of today's headlines, Acts of Faith is a galvanizing novel.

"Synopsis" by , Philip Caputo's tragic and epically ambitious new novel is set in Sudan, where war is a permanent condition. Into this desolate theater come aid workers, missionaries, and mercenaries of conscience whose courage and idealism sometimes coexist with treacherous moral blindness. There's the entrepreneurial American pilot who goes from flying food and medicine to smuggling arms, the Kenyan aid worker who can't help seeing the tawdry underside of his enterprise, and the evangelical Christian who comes to Sudan to redeem slaves and falls in love with a charismatic rebel commander.

As their fates intersect and our understanding of their characters deepens, it becomes apparent that Acts of Faith is one of those rare novels that combine high moral seriousness with irresistible narrative wizardry.

"Synopsis" by , Philip Caputos tragic and epically ambitious new novel is set in Sudan, where war is a permanent condition. Into this desolate theater come aid workers, missionaries, and mercenaries of conscience whose courage and idealism sometimes coexist with treacherous moral blindness. Theres the entrepreneurial American pilot who goes from flying food and medicine to smuggling arms, the Kenyan aid worker who cant help seeing the tawdry underside of his enterprise, and the evangelical Christian who comes to Sudan to redeem slaves and falls in love with a charismatic rebel commander.

As their fates intersect and our understanding of their characters deepens, it becomes apparent that Acts of Faith is one of those rare novels that combine high moral seriousness with irresistible narrative wizardry.   

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