Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book Review - My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay

I rarely read Christian fiction anymore, but I made an exception for My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay because it hit so close to home. It's about a teen girl named Cori who attempts to get away from some high school drama by going on a summer mission trip for a few months. She heads to Indonesia  with a quickly-bonding high school aged team, and they build a church on the small Mollucan island of Seram. While they are there the nearby city of Ambon erupts into religious violence as Muslims and Christians kill, riot, and burn. The violence spreads to Seram, and the team witnesses some pretty dramatic violence and feels into the jungle and ends up trekking for weeks attempting to find a way to safety.

There's a number of things I appreciated about the story. First of all, McKay doesn't give a cheesy testimony story and then wrap things up with a neat bow as so many Christian novels do. She allows her main characters to ask very hard questions about God and to really deal with suffering .... in some cases with very little resolution. I appreciate that. I loved the characters, I got sucked into the team that seemed so much like my high school friendships. Of course there's also high school romance, but I have to admit that the intensity of holding hands really is super scintillating at that age, and so I had to smile at the familiarity at much of that part of the storyline! Even the romance doesn't wrap up neatly, though.

Most all, though, this story was very real to me because the religious riots on the Maluku islands really did happen. I grew up on two different Indonesian islands, and the Maluku islands are right in between them. My friends lived there. When the riots broke out, one of my dearest friends was staying at the high school dorm and had to watch from a distance as her home melted down, her family and the Western community was evacuated, and her Indonesian community was destroyed and completely out of contact. We prayed for years as the riots would calm and then break out again. I watched another friend suffer from some post-traumatic stress from going through some of the riots and evacuation. The tragedy seems very real to me - so this was more than a fictional story. The Indonesian characters represented very real people.

I was afraid that McKay would have done just enough research to have these riots as the setting for her novel, without really building the world of Indonesia that I know so well. I was so pleased with what I read. She described so much that was familiar, from the Indonesian used to the description of the boat ride to Seram, the description of cus-cus (local marsupial) and wild boar, and so much more. She even dealt with the complexity of the political situation in Ambon - known as a Christian area but with natural migration from nearby Muslim islands. This tension was exacerbated by the government and/or extremist Muslim groups' intentional transmigration of radical Islamists from a few places, and brought to the boiling point by rival gang groups. The two supposedly religious sides prepared for war and used a fight over a bus ride as an excuse to start rioting.

It was interesting that McKay opens up by showing violence against a Christian village by a Muslim mob, but then she shows the situation the other way around and brings in several very kind-hearted Muslim characters. The only unredeemed group is the Indonesian army, and she describes how they participated in the massacres and then attempted to cover their tracks (true - in many situations all over Indonesia), and leaves them nearly entirely bad in the readers' eyes.That is also realistic. I don't know if I've ever met anyone that trusted the Indonesian Army.

This was a good book! It's If you'd like to read more about the conflict in Ambon and the Malukus, there's a good summary article in the Asia Times.


cclarebear said...

huh, interesting. maybe i'll hunt it down and have a read...

mamaayanna said...

I will have to check that out (although reading with the little one... I seem to only read small articles these days) For you extra interesting to read, since you could picture the surroundings even more.

Thanks for you comment on my post! YES Cape Cod was lovely and I think as honeymoon place it would have been as well, was that in summer?

Lauren said...

This book sounds fantastic. Thank goodness the local library has a copy!! ~ L

Erin said...

Hey Kacie, I know I don't comment often-a little short on time (sorry!) but I read this book early last year and I thought of you the whole time I was reading it-I too thought that it was good, and to me it sounded very realistic but I wasn't sure obviously because I know virtouly nothing about Indonesia. So anyway I am glad you posted about it...hope your doing great and can I send a baby gift to the refugee family?
Lots of love from AB Canada!

Lisa McKay said...

Hi Kacie,
Google sometimes tells me when people are writing about the book, and I got an email last week while I was in Cambodia for work directing me to your blog. Thanks for your kind words both here and on Amazon. You made my day. Last week in Phnom Penh was long, hot, and quite hard in some ways but reading this made me smile. It was especially meaningful to me given your own history in the area! Hope you're well. All the best, Lisa

Lauren said...

Kacie! I just finished this yesterday. I'm so glad you recommended it. It was excellent, and I'll be mentioning it to others. Thanks! ~ L