The Atlas of Forgotten Places by Jenny D. Williams
“Ocen is a part of this too. We haven’t forgotten him. It’s just easier to spur people to action when it’s an American life at stake.” The injustice of this truth should have outraged her. Tens of thousands of abducted Acholi children, tens of thousands more slaughtered at the rebels’ hands; how many dead and dying in IDP camps? How many dead and dying in Faradje, in yesterday’s bus attack? Ah, but should a mono girl be among them! Then we may intervene; then we may act. She felt nothing. She’d heard this story before.
Gorgeously executed and stunning in scope, The Atlas of Forgotten Places is a novel I will be recommending to others for years to come. Williams expertly crafts a thought provoking tale as she examines a brutal time in Africa’s history and spotlights with great empathy the people who have suffered and are still suffering at the hands of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. The story follows Sabine as she receives word that her American niece Lily (who has been volunteering as an aid worker in Uganda) is missing. Sabine herself worked for years in Africa so she hops on the next available flight to go in search of her niece. Shortly after her arrival in Uganda, Sabine learns much to her horror, that Lily has been captured by Joseph Kony and the LRA. Determined to retrieve Lily and bring her home, Sabine enlists the help of her former colleague and aid worker Christoph along with Rose, an African woman whose lover has also gone missing with Lily. Unbeknownst to Sabine and Christoph, Rose is silently struggling with herself, harboring dark secrets of her past. Together the three of them embark upon a harrowing and dangerous journey that will leave them face to face with some of the most brutal men of our day.
Williams takes information that is at times unfathomable and writes it in such a manner that you are riveted to your seat, eyes never leaving the page. This novel is heartbreaking and yet hopeful; a gorgeous testament to compassion and forgiveness. My heart broke for Rose and the brutality that she suffered in her past and then again by the humiliating stigma that followed her wherever she went. I recognized my younger self in Lily, headstrong and naïve, thinking she can go out and save the world just by her sheer determination and passion. And I haven’t even begun to talk about the elephants. Any one who knows me knows I am crazy passionate about elephant conservation, so to have this theme weaved in to this story so well almost did me completely in. Elephant poaching is a very real threat that goes hand in hand with rebel fighters in that they can sell the ivory on the black market to purchase ammunition and weapons. Today, Joseph Kony remains at large. It is estimated that he has abducted over 66,000 children and millions of people have been displaced to government camps fleeing his armies. Thank you Jenny Williams for writing such a powerful, stunning, and haunting debut and thank you to St. Martin's Press for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.