Wednesday, April 14, 2010

‘The Lost Mission’ by Athol Dickson – Book Review

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When a writer wins a lot of awards, I take notice.  Therefore, I have had my eye on Athol Dickson  for a while!  Here is the description on the back of his latest book, ‘The Lost Mission’:

Athol Dickson’s writing has been likened to Octavia Butler’s (Publisher’s Weekly) and Flannery O’Connor’s (The New York Times), and his novels (honored with two Christy awards) have been critically acclaimed for their richly evocative settings, unforgettable characters, gripping suspense, and unique elements of magical realism.  Dickson’s River Rising was named one of the “Top Ten Christian novels of 2006” by Booklist magazine.  He lives in California with his wife.

The Lost Mission,’ Mr. Dickson’s latest novel, spans a two century period of time, and cleverly weaves the two stories together.  The first story begins in Assisi, Italy at La Mision de Santa Dolores in 1767; its story concludes in 1810.  The main characters in this aspect of the story are Franciscan brothers – Fray Alejandro Tapia Valdez, Fray Eduardo de la Paz and Fray Guillermo Manuel Espinoza.  In 1772, these three friars relocated to the port town of Guaymas in Baja California, Mexico, which was known as New Spain, in order to establish a mission to convert the California Indians.

Although there are no dates for the other story, it is clearly current day.  There are several main characters that intersect.  The first one to come up is Guadalupe Soledad Consuelo (known as Lupe), who owns a small shop in Jalisco, Mexico.  She felt God calling her to evangelize the heathens in the United States.  She happened upon another Mexican citizen who wanted a better life north of the border – Ramon Rodriguez, who offered to help her cross into the United States as he was doing the same himself.

Another main character in this astonishing novel is Tucker Rue, who’d just graduated with his doctorate degree from Fuller Seminary at age 22 – the youngest person to ever earn that honor.  He was in the desert in California for forty days looking to hear from God for direction for his life.  Fortuitously, Lupe came across him three days after her arrival in the United States; she was in extremely poor condition.  She accompanied Tucker to Wilson City, CA, where he started a mission called Sanctuario.  She helped him to learn Spanish; he helped her to learn English, and to get his new ministry off the ground.  Ultimately, Lupe realized coming to the United States to minister to fellow Hispanics was not God’s plan for her, so she left – despite her strong feelings for Tucker.

While Lupe was enjoying the newly discovered (for her) Pacific Ocean, she happened upon Delano Wright and his fifteen year old daughter, Harmony.  Del was a billionaire who inherited his money; his wife had recently left him.  Lupe felt that God brought the three of them together, and she accepted Del’s offer of the job of housekeeper to himself and his daughter, who was struggling mightily with her abandonment by her mother.

Mr. Dickson deals with many deep issues in this amazing book.  One that would be especially compelling to him, a native Texan and current resident of California, is the subject of illegal immigration.  Both sides of the issue are presented – the liberal view through Tucker Rue, who devoted his life to the betterment of Mexicans in California, many of whom were illegals; and the conservative view through Del Wright, who very strongly disagreed with Hispanics (not only Mexicans) illegally entering the country – Lupe, who was employed by him and lived on his premises notwithstanding.

This book is so thought-provoking; it still resonates with me a day or two after I finished reading it.   I love a book that makes me think!  Another subject of import that Mr. Dickson discusses is the idea of a Christian community separate from the heathens in the world.  Here’s Del Wright’s vision, as he perceived it coming from God:

…Standing on the land that once had been his father’s father’s father’s, he looked across the hills and saw the future.  He had gone into the wilderness, up to the mountaintop, and there the Lord had met him with a vision of a place where evil could not enter, where innocence and righteousness would rule.  He would build a place where believers could be safe, a shining city on a hill constructed with the tithes of half a million Christians.  He would [spoiler alert; edited by me], built it for his neighbors, and see to it that no one had a penny left for Tucker Rue and his so-called sanctuary. (p. 148)

I think Del took the apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 6:17, “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord” a little too literally, especially if it contradicts Jesus’ commandment to “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).   That separation from the world can be taken too far; I plead guilty to that at times as well.

Here is Tucker Rue’s opinion on the same subject:

What kind of Christian sends his kids to schools with other Christian kids instead of out into the world where they could make a difference?  What kind of Christian dreamed of life in neighborhoods of other Christians, instead of life surrounded by unbelievers who desperately need the gospel?  What kind of Christian hid from those beyond the church, instead of going out among the sick and lame and poor and lost to spread the love of Jesus?
          Hypocrites, of course.  Hypocrites and Pharisees. (p. 161)

I was struck by how these characters justify their actions – which are often clearly wrong – by perceiving that these actions would be acceptable to the Lord.  We can so easily proceed with our plans with righteous justification, and all we need to do is consult scripture to see that our actions would not be acceptable to God.  Both Delano and Tucker engaged in hypocritical behavior, as well as the megachurch which Del had been attending for the last thirty years.      

I found this book to be incredibly well written, and both storylines were very compelling.  I had a hard time putting it down; to me, that is a sign of terrific writing.  Mr. Dickson’s writing and story kept my interest throughout.  Despite the length of this review, this book is so complex and compelling that I did not pinpoint all aspects of the plot; it is so much more than I have described it here.  The book reminded me of the movies ‘Traffic’ and ‘Babel’ in how it intersected the two stories together.  And the ending was quite satisfying. 

Here is an example of Mr. Dickson’s terrific wordsmithing:

A broken man is capable of anything.  No debauchery is beneath him, no selfless martyrdom too lofty.  Such a man will risk all, accept all, oppose all.  He is a hollow vessel, ready to assimilate the weaknesses or strengths of any pestilence or benefit that comes.  In this state are murderers made from decent men, sinners transformed into saints, grand and foolish gestures offered to the world.  Nothing is more dangerous on earth.  Nothing is more ripe with possibility.  Nothing better described the state of Fray Alejandro Tapia Valdez.  Nothing better described the Reverend Tucker Rue. (p. 320)

I am so impressed by Mr. Dickson’s skill; it is not every day that one reads a book that is so skillfully crafted, and haunts you days after its completion.  I will definitely be seeking out his other works, and will be reading this one again.

You can order this book here.

This book is published by Howard Books and provided by the CFFS Blog Tour.  


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Great review, Andrea. I'm so glad you thought so highly of the book. You might be interested in stopping by some of the other blogs to see what the other participants thought. Oh, and I have a poll at the bottom of my Day 2 post asking which character you think ... well, it ties in with the post and is too hard to explain here. Anyway, I hope you stop by and vote. We have a tie right now, and I'd like to see it broken! LOL


Andrea Schultz said...

Hi Becky -

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for allowing me to participate in this blog tour!

Blessings -


Athol Dickson said...

Thanks for your very encouraging words about my writing, Andrea. I love the way you pulled out the quotes of Delano and Tucker's opposing views, and the way you used those quotes to segue into the fact that they end up making much the same mistakes even though they think they disagree.

Andrea Schultz said...

Hi Athol -
Thanks a million for coming by the blog, reading the review and commenting. It's funny how we can be on two separate sides of an issue, and practically meet on the other end, isn't it? Fanaticism on either side is not necessarily a good thing. Thanks for making that point - in several places - in your wonderful book. And thanks for writing such a thought-provoking novel! I am still thinking about it!
Blessings -

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