Passport Through Darkness (review)

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Passport through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second ChancesPassport through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances by Kimberly L. Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kimberly L. Smith and her husband Milton are introduced to the horrors of human trafficking almost by chance, when their missionary activity in Spain leads them to an orphanage in Portugal. There they come face to face with Uncle Buster, a man who is bringing in children from Africa, filming their abuse, and posting images on the internet. Passport Through Darkness: A True Story of Danger and Second Chances is Smith’s first person account of this event and what happened next.

On exploring trafficking in more depth, Milton and Kimberly discover that the real hotbeds for this activity are Eastern Europe and Africa. Over time they establish Make Way Partners to help raise funds for anti-trafficking work. Then, through a chain of events, Kimberly finds herself in Sudan—a place PJ (Voice of the Martyrs’ Eastern Europe and North Africa Regional Director) identified as “… the worst place on the planet for this evil” (Kindle Location 517).

The bulk of Smith’s story happens in Sudan. She falls in love with the people, especially the orphans, returns numerous times, and ends up building an orphanage in the heart of Sudan’s most dangerous and forsaken region. The sights and events she describes are often raw and heartbreaking. Her ministry is inspiring and off-the-charts of possible, as God steps in again and again to open doors, protect, and make dreams come true.

But all is not sweetness and light. The sub-plot of this memoir involves Kimberly and Milton’s relationship. When his diabetes doesn’t allow him to be part of the Sudan trips, the couple spends long stretches of time apart. Kimberly, not wanting to burden her ill husband more, keeps many details of her Sudan experience secret from him. Their own relationship comes under threat.

The book is vividly written, both in its descriptions of life in Sudan and the life of the heart. I found it a fast, sometimes horrifying though definitely relevant read (It seems anti-human trafficking initiatives are popping up all over. In the last several months, I’ve encountered two new-to-me ministries that also focus on it.)

I recommend this book to people who love kids, those interested in human trafficking, readers with a heart for missions, or anyone who enjoys a well-written memoir. I’m not the alone in recommending it. Passport Through Darkness is also endorsed by such Christian literary luminaries as Philip Yancy, Randy Alcorn, and Ken Gire.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“On some level, praying ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done’ haunted us, though. Gradually we began to understand that God didn’t give us that prayer so much to comfort us as to mold and transform our hearts and lives.

“The more we prayed ‘Thy Kingdom come …’ the more it convicted us that God chose to use mankind—His incarnational presence in this world—to usher His Kingdom in, one fractured attempt at a time.

“But who of us wants to give up our notion of what we think our lives should look like so that we are available for Him to use?” – Kindle Location 501.

Passport Through Darkness is part of my own Kindle collection.

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Thief of Glory (review)

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Thief of Glory: A NovelThief of Glory: A Novel by Sigmund Brouwer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“There (in a village on the island of Java, Dutch East Indies), a marble game beneath the branches was an event as seemingly inconsequential as a banyan seed taking root in the bark of an unsuspecting tree, but the tendrils of the consequences became a journey that has taken me some threescore and ten years to complete” – Thief of Glory, Kindle Location 137.

These words of the narrator in Sigmund Brouwer’s novel Thief of Glory frame the story of a life. We intuit, through them, that this will be a story with dark elements that will have far-reaching consequences. That intuition is only underlined by these words a little farther on:

“I had no foreshadowing, of course, that the last few steps toward the shade beneath those glossy leaves would eventually send me into the holding cell of a Washington DC police station where, at age eighty-one, I faced the lawyer…” K.L. 168.

The narrator is Jeremiah Prins, a survivor of the 1940s Japankamps—concentration camps of Dutch colonists in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). He begins his story on a day before the war begins, when he, as a 10-year-old, sneaks away from his mother in the market to play marbles with his friends under that banyan tree. That day two new people are at the game—the beautiful Laura Jansen, who will become the love of his life, and Georgie Smith, the older, bigger son of an American mine manager. Georgie’s threat to Jeremiah’s position of marble champion and rival for Laura’s attention sparks a fight that illustrates, in living color, the characters of the main players we will soon know very well.

The tale of Jeremiah’s personal vendetta against Georgie is set against the background of the Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies. A few weeks after the story begins (in the spring of 1942) once-privileged Dutch families are split apart. Jeremiah’s is no exception. Fathers and older sons are taken away—eventually to work in Burma. In the fall of that year, mothers and younger children are rounded up and forced to live in Jappencamps—concentration camps of crowded squalor, carved out of former city blocks, now behind barbed wire fences.

Jeremiah’s Dutch determination, precocious wit, and unusual skill at reading people help him and his family survive. But their well-being is threatened not only by the grim conditions and sadistic camp management but by Elsbeth’s (Jeremiah’s mother) mental instability and, in a matter of weeks, the arrival of Laura, her grandmother, Georgie, and his mother at the camp.

Life in the camp is not pretty. In many ways this is a disturbing story—disturbing not in the cold-fact way Brouwer describes the horrible conditions and incidents, but because humans do such things to and are pushed to such extremes by each other.

The writing in Thief of Glory is brilliant—detailed and delivered in a voice that captures the narrator’s personality, setting, action, and the meaning behind the action. The way Brouwer frames the story with foreshadowing lends the tale the gravitas of a classic tragedy. Like the banyan tree steals the glory of its host tree by strangling the life out of it, so, Brouwer shows us, war and hatred and revenge and misunderstanding steal the glory of human lives.

A set of discussion questions at the end provides the reader with more entry points to the meaning and purpose of the story.

I received Thief of Glory from the publisher (via Blogging for books) for the purpose of writing a review.

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Storm Siren (review)

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Storm Siren (Storm Siren, #1)Storm Siren by Mary Weber

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“ ‘Fourteen circles for fourteen owners.’
I shade my eyes to block the sun’s reflection off the distant mountains currently doused in snow and smoke and flesh-eating birds” – Kindle Location 107.

In this first snippet of the story already we see its bloody DNA. I should have read the online sample and been warned.

Seventeen-year-old Nymia is a Uathuil, a citizen of the land of Faelen in Mary Weber’s paranormal fantasy Storm Siren. Of the Uathuil’s she is a female Elemental who shouldn’t even exist. But she does, having been sold and resold from one slave master to another. At the point the story begins, she’s bought again by the evilly attractive Adora.

Adora puts her in the charge of handsome and mysterious trainer Eogan. Soon Nymia is learning to harness her powerful weather-creating abilities and combine them with Colin’s earth-moving talents. Together they are being prepared as Faelen’s weapons against neighboring Bron’s army and war planes.

As training proceeds, Nymia feels herself being increasingly drawn to Eogan, who can calm her explosive nature with his touch—and does with touches that progress from hand, to waist, to neck, to…

Nymia, for her part, fights any softness within herself or sensed in others with sarcasm, anger, and violence. She is honest, abrupt, vulnerable, and self-loathing but does display infrequent flashes of nobility as distaste for the killing machine she feels she is destined to remain.

The book is written in first person (Nymia’s point-of-view) present tense. The writing is vivid, action-filled, and poetic.

Despite Weber’s intriguing fantasy world, strong characterization, and strong writing, I didn’t like this book. Nymia’s inner life and thoughts seemed overly melodramatic—teenaged angst on caffeine-laced hormones. The fight scenes were complicated and felt almost cartoonish in the way the main characters were able to dodge death in split-second maneuvers. The romantic scenes hovered between lustful and creepy. Halfway through I seriously considered not finishing it. But Thomas Nelson published it, I told myself. Surely it will end up having some redeeming features.

I guess one might call Nymia’s visit to the Valley of Origin such a feature, and Colin’s sacrifice, and the inclusion of words like “redemption” and “atonement” near the end. But I found the meaning of these bits so abstruse, their message so vague and subtle–not to speak of  the little that felt positive being cancelled out by the whiplash ending–the total of the positive really didn’t justify the hours spent in dark negativity and bloody violence. As a result, I don’t recommend this book.

I received Storm Siren as a gift from the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the purpose of writing a review.

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