Synopses & Reviews
A transcendent and powerful first novel about two women seeking justice and hope in Africa.
With a swift, compressed narrative style and compassionate vision that recalls the works of Graham Greene, Lara Santoro offers an indelible portrait of Africa in the throes of an epidemic that will ultimately constitute the largest loss of life, love, memory, and hope in modern history.
Anna is an Italian-born journalist based in Kenya. What began as an exploratory three-week tour of Africa has turned into two years of tough assignments and hard living that have provoked a personal crisis: "We don't do massacres," Warren, my editor, warned, but what else was there to do? "Give us the ray of light in the dark," but there was no light to speak of. The longer I stayed, the angrier I became...
Mercy is the large, flamboyantly dressed African woman who ambushes Anna in the market one day and talks herself into a job as Anna's housemaid. Soon Mercy is organizing interviews for Anna in Nairobi's worst slum and establishing much-needed order in the journalist's disheveled life. While tension and misunderstanding punctuate Anna and Mercy's developing relationship, the two women establish a genuine connection that gives each the courage to battle injustice, greed, and cynicism.
Smart, suspenseful, and ultimately heart-wrenching, Mercy is a powerful tale of moral outrage and personal transformation.
"'Anna, the Italian-born, Nairobi-based war correspondent and narrator of veteran journalist Santoro's affecting debut novel, is fast succumbing to 'the pain and riot' of 'burned, bloodied Africa.' Excessively drinking, keeping two lovers one, a fellow journalist; the other, the owner of a coffee plantation and delaying assignments while pleading with her editor for a bureau transfer, she seems hell-bent on self-annihilation when Mercy, a local 'giantess miraculously squeezed into a pink halter-top and fake patent-leather pants,' persuades Anna to give her a job as house girl. Mercy becomes indispensable to Anna, pushing her to give up alcohol and meet her deadlines and introducing Anna to Father Anselmo, an Italian priest who lives in and administers to the AIDS-wracked slum of Korogocho. But it is only after Anna learns that Mercy has AIDS that the full measure of the women's connection to and effect upon each other comes full circle. Santoro, who has covered the African AIDS epidemic, evokes the continent's everyday horrors and uncommon moments of grace in decidedly unsentimental prose, and her depiction of international journalists' lifestyles is similarly powerful. Though the subtleties that make the first half of the book sublime become heavy-handed later on, the characters and their complicated relationships remain stirring until the end. (Sept.)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Santoro...writes well about poverty and disease and 'the stir, the throb, the cackle of night' in Nairobi." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"The story is hard to get into; Anna is prickly, and we can't sympathize with her until the second half of the novel, when the plot becomes more focused and she is faced with a real challenge. This debut is a book of almosts: half of a plot and a shadow of a character nearly make a complete book, but not quite." Library Journal
"Santoro's experience as a journalist is evident in her straightforward prose, and although the concluding chapters of the book are not well focused, this debut is a notable tale of contemporary forms of suffering and relationships." Booklist
About the Author
Lara Santoro was born in Rome and educated in the U.S. and France. A veteran journalist who has worked for the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek, Santoro has traveled extensively covering wars, famines, and every major aspect of the AIDS epidemic. Mercy is her first novel. She divides her time between Ranchos de Taos, NM and Boston, MA.
Reading Group Guide
1. Anna, the narrator of Mercy is self-destructing, succumbing to “the pain and riot” of “burned, bloodied Africa.” Tension is inherent in all war coverage. Do you imagine Anna to be typical of journalists in war-ravaged surroundings?
2. What is your initial reaction to the character Mercy? In what situations throughout the novel does the author put Mercy that perhaps causes you to change your view of her?
3. Discuss the relationship between Anna and Mercy and how the author develops both characters.
4. The author shows us obvious differences between Michael and Nick. What is it about each one that draws Anna to him? Are they alike in any ways?
5. Discuss the character Father Anselmo. What is his relationship with the people of Korogocho? With Anna? With Mercy? What does he represent?
6. The act of care-giving comes full circle between Anna and Mercy. What similarities are there in how they take care of each other? How is it different? How does it bond them?
7. Discuss the protest movement that Mercy initiates. What are the dynamics of that movement? What rules does Mercy insist upon? What makes the movement effective?
8. At the end of the book the author quotes scripture from 1 Corinthians 13. How is the author using this passage to comment on the story the novel tells? What does “mercy” mean in this context?
9. Does Mercys and Annas story make you want to know more about the AIDS epidemic in Africa? Does it make you question the role the U.S. has played?
10. Western writers (Isak Dinesen, Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Barbara Kingsolver, John le Carré) have long been drawn to Africa. What other novels set in Africa have you read? Discuss the portrait of Africa that emerges from Mercy. What qualities of the continent and its people does the novel evoke? In what ways does Mercy continue the tradition of Western authors writing about Africa? In what ways does the novel depart from that tradition?