The Existence of Pity

The Existence of PityThe Existence of Pity by Jeannie Zokan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The main character Josie has just finished year ten at her school in Cali, Columbia, the child of Baptist missionaries. They live in a nice area of town (read that as relatively safe) and have everything you could wish for including a Columbian maid to pick up the pieces behind them. Life seems picture perfect, that is until things are not. Both her parents, Astrid and Henry are hiding huge secrets from each other and themselves, things so big that it could tear the family and their way of life apart And its not just her parents who are hiding secrets. Older brother Aaron is rebelling against his strict Baptist upbringing, behaving in ways that would make most parents quake and Josie herself, with her interest in things not acceptable within Baptist circles (such as yoga and Catholicism) has the potential to cause her family trouble also.
This is an interesting book. Jeannie Zokan writes from place of personal experience, having grown up in Cali, Columbia, although it is murky as to whether she was a MK (Missionary Kid) herself, although it is hinted at in the Acknowledgements section. The characters are written in a vital manner, they leap off the page at you, with all their faults and foibles. There are plot twists that will make your jaw drop when they are finally revealed. The rough and tumble of life in Cali feels so real you can feel the heat and humidity of the city rising up within your core. As the secrets slowly unravel the tension builds as you wonder where all this is going to lead.
Being a MK is a tough gig. Your own life is effected directly by the choices your parents have made and you get no say in the matter. Not that you get a say if your parents are missionaries, but missionary work is a special kind of commitment that tends to extract a high price on the family’s personal lives. There are privileges involved in living in another county, but it does come at a cost of losing your home culture. And there is the very real expectation that you are going to behave better and achieve more than others who live a conventional life.
The story line is very human in its frailty. The writing is rich. The ending isn’t a clear happily ever after for everyone. The choices made can seem wrong and there is a good old dose of selfishness shown clearly in the choices of all the players.
Powerful, evocative, troubling with moments of hope, this is a book not to miss.

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