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After surviving a terrifying ordeal at the hands of terrorists in the South Pacific island of Santa Irene, Bill Burridge returns home to Ottawa and casts himself single-mindedly into building a human-rights organization to stand watch over the world’s most troubled areas. Yet, plagued by memories of his incarceration and by the strain of his disintegrating marriage, he is a man struggling to hold his life together. When a democratic revolution stands Santa Irene on a knife-edge between chaos and healing, Burridge reluctantly agrees to serve on a Truth Commission there to investigate past atrocities. Taut, intelligent, and written in the compelling, often sardonic voice of Bill Burridge, Cumyn’s gripping novel immerses us in a shadowy world of betrayals and shifting loyalties, and reveals the intricate, rejuvenating bonds of human relationships. Bill Burridge’s voice is infectious, his story a remarkable one as the novel builds to its climactic final scenes.
I had to read it in the newspaper – which was wrong, as it turned out. Now I find there’s no translation service, so I have no idea what anybody’s saying. We agreed I wouldn’t get buried in details, but this is preposterous. ” I sputter on the word, deliver it like an actor who doesn’t know what’s coming next. Settle down, I think. She’s extraordinarily beautiful. Her cinnamon skin, ageless, her deep brown eyes, the stillness that surrounds her. Her thin shoulders that have borne so much, seem so ready to be embraced.
The gawky arms, bony body, toothsome smile, the bad facial skin. I look at her closely, as if for the first time, and notice her wedding band. She seems very young, but of course she must have finished her schooling, is competent in her translation. But not only that, I also notice, for the first time, that she looks pregnant. It seems outrageous to have missed it, although she isn’t huge, probably never will be, but there under the stretchy fabric of her skirt is the beginning of either a pot-belly or a baby.
Joanne’s tent is next to mine; I find her outside it in a yellow rain jacket, seated on a wet log with her knees pulled up, eyes closed, face covered in mist and turned skyward. The whole encampment has a ghostly look to it: the white tents disappearing in black shadows, the lamps glowing eerily in the mist, the press of the jungle, sky and mountains all around us, swallowed in black. Some soldiers stand around a fire, their weapons leaning teepee-fashion a little ways off. I hesitate, but pass on.
I don’t sleep anyway. I just need to sit. ” Small voice, not the fireball of earlier in the evening but a deflated, tired soul. We step out of the tent into the grey light of a chilly dawn. A black and yellow spider knits the last strands of an elaborate web stretched between a tent rope and the ground; a lizard flashes for cover off the path ahead of us; overhead a bird stops its song as soon as we come into view. I take Suli to the rock where Joanne and I sat the day before. Down below the valley is sunk in mist, but the first gold bands of sunlight are poking between mountain peaks.
Listen – the ball is in their court and it might not come back for a while. Who knows where Suli is or how long it will take them to get the translation service working? ” She doesn’t look up, but sits engrossed in her book, stays infuriatingly calm, like some wife who’s been thinking rings around me for years. How long am I prepared to wait? Through room-service lunch, the fruit plate that’s already growing tired, and stale bread that seems purposely unappealing, as if part of a larger conspiracy to make me leave.