Monday, January 20, 2020

Book Review: 'The Existence of Pity' by Jeannie Zokan

Florida author Jeannie Zokan grew up in Colombia, South America, moved to Texas to earn her degree in Library Science at Baylor University and on to The George Washington University in DC. She now lives with her family on Florida's Gulf Coast writing stories for the local newspaper. THE EXISTENCE OF PITY is her literary debut. Of note, this sensitive new author states she is drive to write to relive, write to understand, write to remember, and write to renew.

Jeannie draws on her background on many levels for this novel’s story – her life in South America as a missionary kid, the bonds and breaks of life in a religious atmosphere, and her appreciation for literature.

The ability to capture a reader’s attention with a brief scene before the characters are established takes skill – and that is the first indication that Jeannie is delivering an intriguing story. She opens with the following – ‘When I found out Aaron had been shot, I fainted for the first time in my life. All the lights and colors of the emergency room darkened around me. I felt hot and cold at the same time, and a high-pitched ringing in my ears drowned out the nurse’s words. The worst part, though, was the dizziness. As the room pitched and swirled, I reached for Blanca. Standing was going to be impossible without help. The smell of coffee pulled me out of the fog. My aching head was on a hard pillow in Blanca’s lap, and when I remembered where I was, tears burned my closed eyes. How could one summer go so wrong? I should’ve known all was not right on the night before my last day of tenth grade, when summer was about to begin. Mom paced the hall between the living room and dining room while Aaron played never-ending scales on the piano. Dad still wasn’t home from a revival. He had been late before, plenty of times, but he was at church in a dangerous barrio in the city of Cali, Colombia, half an hour from our house— and he was really late. I tried not to think about the gruesome murders the newspapers splashed on their pages, but the harder I tried to push the images away, the more vivid they became.’

The synopsis offers a brief map of the journey ahead – ‘Growing up in a lush valley in the Andes mountains, sixteen-year-old Josie Wales is mostly isolated from the turbulence brewing in 1976 Colombia. As the daughter of missionaries, Josie feels torn between their beliefs and the need to choose for herself. She soon begins to hide things from her parents, like her new boyfriend and her explorations into different religions. Josie eventually discovers her parents’ secrets are far more insidious. When she attempts to unravel the web of lies surrounding her family, each thread stretches to its breaking point. Josie tries to save her family, but what happens if they don’t want to be saved?’

Yes, the border walls are happening and that and the drug wars in South America are the foci of the media, but here is a different insight into life in South America, on delivered tenderly, with fine focus, and with sure writing skills. Jeannie Zokan will be around for more books once readers begin to indulge in this impressive debut. Grady Harp, Aril 17
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.