Title: Dangerous Pilgrims
Author: Lawrence Swaim
Genre: Literary Fiction, Political Fiction
Maitland Sutterfield is a San Francisco journalist who has just been through an exhausting divorce. He takes a writer’s holiday, accepting an assignment as a reporter in Guatemala. In full flight from his personal demons, Sutterfield seeks peace in a beautiful land unlike his own – but this is Guatemala of the 1980s, and there is a brutal civil war underway. Instead of peace, Sutterfield finds the perils of love in a time of revolution, not to mention the moral quandaries of a country that is descending into madness.
Maitland’s main contact in Guatemala is Sofia Mendez, who takes him to a small Catholic mission in the highlands run by a Spanish-trained Jesuit priest. Maitland volunteers at the mission, convinced that the priest’s ministry is a vivid example of the Liberation Theology movement about which he hopes to write the definitive book-length analysis. But complications abound when Sofia becomes Maitland’s lover, before either he or Sofia have a chance to discuss the real nature of her previous vocation.
Maitland is oppressively aware of the subtle but inevitable exploitation of third-world sources by first-world media, but the tables are turned as he finds himself trapped in a dangerous dilemma in which Sofia’s needs dictate both their futures.
One could say this is ‘The Ugly American’ revisited. Best intentions of both Maitland and Padre Julio only led the poor, mistreated villagers of the Guatemalan Highlands on the road to hell. In some ways the results of Maitland’s actions were less condemning than the Padre. With Maitland dozens of innocents were murdered. With the Padre dozens of innocents were stripped of hope. That pain didn’t end with a bullet but was carried like a burden for those poor peasants going forward.
This book to me was two books in one. The first half is 5 stars. You have the American Doofus trying to find himself in a tiny village and he finds companionship and some inner peace as they scrape out an existence in the midst of a U.S. government funded civil war. The second half is a three star book with all the violence, angst and pain that came with Maitland acting in what he thought was everyone’s best interests.
The book should be required reading for everyone who may cling to the concept that America is the world’s big brother and can ‘help’ every country. There are CONSEQUENCES for such a conceited foreign policy. This should also be required reading for every person of faith who thinks they should go all over the world to ‘help’ people find faith. There are CONSEQUENCES here that can either be the loss of hope or the death of those being ‘aided’.
A worthwhile read that has a lot to offer to every kind of reader.
My Rating: 4 stars
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Lawrence Swaim is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Freedom Foundation, a public-interest non-profit advocating civil rights for religious minorities and religious liberty for all. The IFF is especially engaged in opposing the growth of Islamophobia in the US. Swaim has a long history of progressive involvement, including ten years of union politics (Postal Workers). He has written three novels, writes a regular column on religious liberty issues and has done journalism from Latin America and Europe. He has also worked 25 years as a counselor in residential treatment programs for clients suffering from emotional trauma, addictions and chronic mental illness. He lives in California.
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Reviewed by: Mr. N