Dec 02, 09
Read in November, 2009
It was okay and I didn't mind that the narrator proved unlikeable in the first two chapters--it was a kind of reverse likeable-ness in that the narrator was reporting things that made him look bad. And it's a refreshing look at how NGOs don't always totally save the world and make it a better place while giving volunteers a deep sense of meaning in their lives. But suddenly my lukewarm feelings turned to dislike when I looked at the author discussion in the back. The author photo therein shows a guy who looks like he's in his thirties. The book wallows in the anxieties and depressive outlook of the middle-aged protagonist to an amateurish extent, but I was willing to accept this, and to suspend my disbelief that the disillusionment of old age could cause someone to be as passive as the protagonist was, when I thought it was semi-autobiographical. Coming from a younger author the angst--which everything in the book hinged on (middle-aged doctor has grief over wife, ambivalent relationship with son, regrets about past actions, morbid nostalgia over having risen in the class structure, all of which culminates in vague decision to volunteer in a primitive situation on the other side of the globe, followed by disappointment that life in primitive situations on the other side of the globe are just as complex and unsatisfying as everywhere else, followed by inappropriate lust for young co-volunteer which ends -surprise!- in her wanting to sleep with him exactly once and never wanting anything from him again)--seemed cliched and lazy. Icing on the cake: the author scolds readers to contribute to his NGO because, after all, the paperback copy they're reading the author discussion in cost less than a hardback copy.
Writing this review now, I think maybe I should have read the whole author discussion to figure out why he thought the book would make people want to donate. Yes, it shows the harsh conditions of the people the fictional charity was supposed to help. But it also shows them not getting helped. And it's entirely because the army in the country doesn't do what they said it would, not because of lack of funds. You could argue that with more funds the charity could have launched its own effort to let people know of the refuge camp rather than relying on the army, but only the army is going to have the skills to do a communication effort over that kind of terrain and the authority to do any concerted activity that close to a hostile border.