From Publishers Weekly
Caputo's ambitious adventure novel, set against a backdrop of the Sudanese wars, makes for a dense, riveting update on Graham Greene's The Quiet American
. The American in this case is Douglas Braithwaite, a "mercenary with a conscience" who founds Knight Air, a charter airline that conveys relief supplies from NGOs to war-torn southern Sudan. Braithwaite launches his service by flying aid to the Nuba, a region in the northern Sudanese sphere of influence that is a no-go zone for U.N.-sponsored airlines. He hires Fitzhugh Martin, a former soccer star and mixed-race Kenyan from the Seychelles Islands, as his operations manager, and soon teams up with Texan bush pilot Wes Dare as well as a shady Somali financier. From Fitzhugh's perspective, we see corruption ensue from Douglas's decision to expand his air service—crushing his competitor, Tara Whitcomb, in the process—and to smuggle arms to Michael Goraende, the Nuban militia head. Douglas's support for the Nuban commander also brings Quinette Hardin, a Christian aid worker from Iowa who marries Goreande, into Knight Air's orbit. Caputo presents a sharply observed, sweeping portrait, capturing the incestuous world of the aid groups, Sudan's multiethnic mix and the decayed milieu of Kenyan society. Though this long atmospheric novel offers a very slow build and doesn't always avoid formula, the understated climax that leads to Knight Air's demise is powerful in its impact.
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Nothing is omitted in this ambitious novel depicting the turbulent lives of several aid workers at the height of the Sudanese civil war. Caputo, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and the author of a Vietnam memoir, includes more characters, plot lines, and big ideas than a single mind can track, but he writes so authoritatively that it doesn't matter. In the course of nearly seven hundred pages, he encompasses military offensives, the slave trade, arms-running operations, passionate romances, religious conversions, childhood memories, and rampant corruption, in a portrait of a place where "God and the Devil are one and the same." Caputo lays the groundwork of the novel carefully, introducing his disparate cast of characters; then, as the various plot lines come together, the book picks up speed. Caputo may have set out to write an epic parable about the dangers of uncritical belief, but he ended up with, quite simply, a great story.
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