3 out of 4 stars
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Africa Reclaimed: One Man’s Quest to Eliminate African Poverty is a historical fiction novel authored by Peter D. Cimini. I must admit that this is the first time I have been able to truly appreciate the uniqueness of this genre. Otherwise, I used to feel that writers should not recreate historical events and personalities. The book has a didactic tone and is very entertaining. It stirs the reader to reflect on religious as well as social issues and be involved in making the world a better place.
The central character is an Indonesian cardinal who becomes Pope Francis Xavier. His election is manipulated by three cardinals chosen by the previous pope who resigns due to health reasons. The new pontiff finds himself alone in his office with cardboard boxes everywhere and no place for visitors to sit. There is nobody to ask him whether he is hungry, and he falls asleep in his chair. On the next day, he finds his way to the Vatican cafeteria where the people recognize him. The former pope comes to his rescue and helps him with the transition. The new pope appoints his childhood friend from Indonesia, Fr Budi Susanto, as his secretary. They research the history of the terms ex cathedra and papal infallibility. Finally, after a lot of inspiration and perspiration, Pope Francis declares poverty as immoral. As the story progresses, the author does an excellent job with the development of these important characters, especially the emotional struggles they must overcome.
The pontiff comes up with a unique plan to auction the Vatican’s collection of treasures (associated with European culture and ecclesiastical history) to collect funds for a long-term project called Build Africa Together (B.A.T.). It is meant to build “a strong African middle-class society.” Several retired political and ecclesiastical leaders collaborate with Pope Francis in this endeavor. It is not without problems: incorrect estimates of the expenditure involved for irrigating the deserts, a hilarious plan to trap warlords and gang leaders in Somalia that is a success as well as failure, false accusations of corruption in the dealings, an archbishop secretly sowing dissent against the pontiff, and more. The recent debates between conservatives and liberals, rumors about a gay lobby in the Vatican, etc., are also reflected in the story.
I read this novel with a lot of interest and enjoyed every page and dialogue. I could imagine the scenes very clearly as if it was a movie. The characters were so funny that it was impossible to control my laughter until I reached the middle of the story. Then the seriousness set in, and I became very thoughtful. Overall, it seemed like a comedy, but there were moments I wept in sorrow due to tragic events and had tears of joy when people concretely expressed solidarity towards the poor. Their lives became an exegesis (living) of the gospel. The author’s knowledge and expertise in so many subjects are amazing. He knows the workings of the Catholic Church, theological trends and controversies, current world events, the scourge of terrorism, the nitty-gritty of working in developing countries, their cultures, and so on.
Despite the excellence of this work, I have two criticisms. Firstly, the book has several grammatical errors. I read a draft copy and hope that the published version has been professionally formatted and edited. Secondly, I noticed the relative absence of women in the story.
After careful and critical analysis of the contents, I give Africa Reclaimed a rating of 3 out of 4 stars. I did not give a higher rating because of the two reasons mentioned above. I did not give a lower rating since it is an excellent novel, and I enjoyed reading it. I am pleased to recommend it to Catholic leaders, social workers, politicians, teachers, health workers, and anyone interested in the developing world.
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