Readers, today I'd like to tell you about one of my favorite books. I'm excited about it not just because it's the best book I've read in a long time, but because the paperback and eBook editions are scheduled to come out later this year, just in time for me to give it to all my friends and family as a holiday gift.
The book is If the Rains Don't Cleanse and the author is Ben Patrick Johnson. I have to be honest: I'm not usually very much of a fiction person in general, nor am I big on the first-person narrative mode, but Ben's fascinating story and riveting prose blew my preconceptions out of the water from the very first page. Drawing on his mother's real-life experiences, he forges characters so real you'll think you're peering through a windowpane instead of looking at a piece of paper.
In Rains, Johnson chronicles the adventures of young Eva Dunagan, an American missionary heading to 1950s Belgian Congo with her husband Richard. Eva is somewhat naïve but well-intentioned, filled with lofty ideals about spreading her Christian faith and living her life in service to the Congolese people.
Little do the Dunagans know they're being dropped into a nation that's at the very end of its colonial era and on the cusp of revolution. Eva and Richard form strong friendships with students and villagers, suffer unbelievable hardships and setbacks, endure harrowing near-death experiences, and confront the ravages of disease and poverty. Once sure about her religious convictions, Eva finds herself questioning them more and more every day; ultimately, she and Richard become disillusioned with the very missionary group who sent them to Congo in the first place. When the embers of revolution finally ignite, they escape the country in literally the nick of time.
If the Rains Don't Cleanse weaves together the lessons of history, the value of relationships, the ghosts of cultural imperialism, the challenges of spirituality, and the timelessness of change. It will captivate you from beginning to end. I can't tell you how many nights Michael and I stayed up far past our bedtimes -- laughing one minute and crying the next -- unable to put Ben's gripping volume down. You simply must check this book out; I can't recommend it highly enough.
Incidentally, in addition to being an amazing author, Ben is also an actor who has one of the most widely-recognized and iconic voices in America. (Don't believe me? Check it out -- I guarantee you'll recognize it.) On top of that, he's an LGBT activist and directs a human rights foundation, and he's also an unbelievably sweet guy who I'm privileged to call a dear personal friend.
So in case I haven't already made it abundantly clear, you really need to read Ben Patrick Johnson's latest book, If the Rains Don't Cleanse. Trust me: you'll be glad you did.