three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
17-July-Aug-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-ActsFaithDouglas Braithwaite is an American pilot with a bleeding heart. His altruism—as well as his need to escape his own past—lands him in Sudan in the 1990s, attempting to deliver food and supplies to pockets of the country that even the United Nations won’t touch. Quinette Hardin, an evangelical Christian from Iowa, has come to Sudan as part of a missionary effort to buy back slaves captured by Arab raiders. As their paths overlap, their choices—Quinette marries a Sudanese freedom fighter, and Douglas begins running guns—set in motion a series of events that pull everyone around them into a bloody climax.
Knopf. 688 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0375411666

LA Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[Caputo] demonstrates an almost maniacal determination to involve the reader. … [He] not only captures the look and smells of Africa, but he also conveys as few novelists can its mayhem, random violence, and pitched battles." Michael Mewshaw

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Philip Caputo’s devastating new novel, Acts of Faith, will be to the era of the Iraq war what Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American became to the Vietnam era: a parable about American excursions abroad and the dangers of missionary zeal, a Conradian tale about idealism run amok, capitalistic greed sold as paternalistic benevolence, ignorance disguised as compassion. … As the book progresses, all the plot’s gears slowly click into place, resulting in a story that possesses all the suspense and momentum of a Hollywood thriller and all the gravitas of a 19th-century novel." Michiko Kakutani

San Antonio Exp-News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The reader learns of the code of honor among Arab raiders, the many rites of the Nuban tribe, the fervor of an evangelical caught up in the lure of Africa, the ways of bush pilots, the skills of a pathological liar, the plotting of an empty-eyed betrayer and how to murder by airplane crash. … The fundamental lesson is that doing good in a strange land is difficult, painful, and costly." Sterlin Holmesly

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]he 688-page novel moves along with ease, thanks to its well-developed characters and powerful, captivating story. … The author relies too often on unorthodox romantic pairings as a dramatic device, and the pace is a little uneven—long stretches continue without Ibrahim, one of the book’s most riveting characters." Jake Batsell

Boston Globe 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]he problem with such verisimilitude in a book with so many characters is that the research becomes too apparent and smothers the opportunity for the characters to come alive. … But he has deftly constructed a complicated web of narrative threads, and, despite some shaky plot points, we stick with him and his characters, as—despite their best intentions—they rise and fall from grace." Nathaniel Bellows

San Diego Union-Tribune 2 of 5 Stars
"Caputo has written an exciting and challenging 400-page book, but it took him nearly 700 pages to do it. This is all the more maddening because the good parts are so good." Cyril Jones-Kellett

Critical Summary

Critics gave kudos to the author for writing a big, sprawling, old-fashioned novel with diverse characters and serious moral themes. Caputo has painted a portrait of Africa that avoids stereotype or cliché. His eye for detail is unmatched (he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for his reporting work at the Chicago Tribune). His characterization is weak, however; a few critics felt that they were watching a puppeteer move marionettes. Caputo’s leisurely pace and an omniscient, flat narration frustrated others. Despite these criticisms, Acts of Faith is a timely book about attempted heroism in the face of war, and a warning, noted in the epigraph from the 17th-century philosopher Blaise Pascal, that "Whoever tries to turn angel turns beast."