3 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
The Eagle Flies at Night by Jan E. Anderson is a novel about immigration and cultural assimilation in America. Reverend Thomas Giles from the Episcopal Church in Portland, Maine, seeks volunteers to board Somali refugees who have migrated to America seeking a better life. Tobey, a young woman from his congregation who works on the switchboard for John's Lobster Trucking, does what she can to help. Thomas and his parishioners organise demonstrations in the park, carrying banners to entreat white people to offer what hospitality they can to the Somalis; ideally, a temporary home. Parishioner Tobey finds herself attracted to Amiele, one of the Somali refugees. Unfortunately, their love could land Amiele in serious trouble with the imam of her religion, punishable by banishment or possibly even death...
I enjoyed Anderson's writing style. She writes in a neat and simple style yet still manages to evoke some nice imagery. For example: "Black clouds roiled overhead, forming and reforming as the wind blew them across the sky. Suddenly, a deluge poured down into the garden, and raindrops bounced from the stones, and water ran along the stone paths." There are plenty of other instances, including: "Light coming through the stained-glass windows filled the church with a soft, subdued, luminous quality" and "...the crowd moved onto the bridge like a giant centipede of lights."
The author also approaches character emotions with subtlety and tenderness. The relationship between Tobey and Amiele - which starts out, naturally, as friendship - blossoms organically into a completely natural love as they share personal information and experiences together. The dilemma this causes with Amiele's imam and her religion culminates in a powerful scene late in the book. Though I sensed some sort of serious conflict was building, it still had great impact when it occurred. The friendship between twelve-year-olds Jacob and Nancy - who meet after he moves into a new neighbourhood - is also developed nicely.
Anderson's characters consider many philosophical questions about life and faith, which I found fitting in a novel crammed full of social and moral issues. Jacob's mother Katherine, having lost her husband, tries to figure out if she has arrived where she is in life through "fate or faith". Reverend Thomas considers whether he will make it into Heaven for the work he does for refugees, while Buck, a man in his fifties who is homeless by choice, despairs of all the evil in the world.
There are a few minor errors with missing punctuation throughout the book. However, the main negative I could find was a continual switching of tenses. Though most of the book is set in past tense, there are regular switches to present tense and back. I picked up ten such changes in just over a page at the beginning of the book. Tense changes also sometimes occur within the same sentence: "Thomas can't hear what they are saying, but gradually, the men calmed and then walked away." This did distract me from the otherwise great writing and storytelling.
If not for the random changes of tense, I would rate The Eagle Flies at Night 4 stars. In its current state, however, it earns 3 out of 4 stars. All it needs is a decent edit to fix these minor issues. Overall, it is a moving and challenging story which questions the state of the world and the xenophobic attitudes of some Americans toward foreigners. I would recommend it to those who enjoy thought-provoking human drama and the conflicts inevitably raised by mixing different cultures and religions.
The Eagle Flies at Night
View: on Bookshelves
Like joshfee77's review? Post a comment saying so!