Book Review: A Way Beyond Death


“A Way Beyond Death,” by Jemimah Wright.

“A Way Beyond Death,” by Jemimah Wright recounts the struggles and unceasing missionary work of a married couple, Marcia dos Santos and Edson Suzuki, in the Amazon jungle.

The couple works tirelessly to help the indigenous Indians in the area to combat their own tribal customs of infanticide and suicide, and eventually succeeds at getting new laws enacted to protect indigenous children who are at risk.

Facing challenges ranging from illnesses, threat from wild animals like jaguars, and sometimes even from those whom they are trying to help, Marcia and Edson rely on their faith in incredible situations.

Marcia describes her first encounter with the Surawahá as she and her husband prepare to live in the tribe’s community.

“Immediately they started to inspect me. They couldn’t tell if I was a man or a woman under all my clothes. I had hands grabbing me from every direction. The Surawahá were so intrigued by me that they wanted to take my clothes off to ins pet me more. As quickly as they tried to peel away my clothing, I put it back on.”

After that embarrassing welcome, the tribe celebrates the couple’s arrival by dancing all night.

In her first week there, Marcia learns of the tribe’s suicide custom: “If a person has no value among the Suruwahá or is not liked, when that person eats kunaha he or she is left to die. But if the person is much-loved, then everyone does all they can to bring the person back.”

Her first experience with this happens when an 18-year-old boy sucks the poisonous juice from the root, giving his desperate family only 30 minutes to save him. When the family gives up, accepting the boy’s death, they leave him alone, but while Suzuki continues to pray over him, he gasps and starts breathing again.

The book is well-written, and engaging. In fact, it is difficult to put it down because the challenges the couple faces are so interesting and difficult to imagine. I wanted to finish the book as quickly as possible to find out what would happen next.

A Long Way Gone


“A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ishmael Beah is a heart-wrenching, auto-biographical account of a young boy’s struggle to survive the violence of Sierra Leone’s Civil War in the 1990s.

The story begins with young Ishmael and his brother and friends heading off to another village together to perform rap songs, which is one of their favorite pastimes together. Their youthful exuberance is forgotten as war breaks out, and they return home amid grisly and bloody violence, unable to find their families.

The boys set out together, searching for their families, struggling to feed and shelter themselves. They face unbelievable obstacles during this time, but most poignant is the unease and suspicion adults in other villages feel toward them. Where in peace time, the children would have been taken in, cared for and fed, instead the children are seen as the enemy in a war-torn world where even young boys are joining in perpetrating the violence ravaging the country.

After much personal loss, Ishmael is captured, handed a gun and pressed into service. It’s common for his superiors to ply Ishmael and other young soldiers like him with cocaine and other drugs while encouraging them to commit acts of unspeakable violence. Normally a good-natured boy, Ishmael is surprised by his own actions during this time.

A new stage in his life begins when he is chosen by a commander to leave the war with a UNICEF representative. Ishmael is taken to a safe home for boys just like him, where he spends months working through the violence he has experienced and his drug addictions. He is only 15 years old at this time. Though his parents are gone, his father’s brother is located, and he graciously takes Ishmael into his own family, which is a mixture of other nieces and nephews as well.

While living with his uncle, safe and in a stable family situation, Ishmael is chosen by UNICEF to represent the children of Sierra Leone at a U.N. meeting in New York City. His uncle, a loving and caring man, jokes with him about this opportunity, and doesn’t believe Ishmael really is traveling to the United States until he calls home from New York City to check in with his family.

Ishmael returns home to his uncle’s family to continue his studies, and just as it seems there has been a happy ending for Ishmael, the civil war, which had been isolated to the country’s more rural areas up to this point, breaks out in the city where he is living. Food becomes scarce, survival is once again a struggle, and Ishmael fears he will be recognized by his former fellow soldiers and pressed into service again.

He flees to the United States to live with a mentor, whom he met during his visit there, and finishes high school and college. Currently, he is a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee and speaks before many groups regarding children affected by the war.

This is a well-written story of human strength and endurance, made even more incredible by the fact that the main character is a child. It is difficult to read at times because it causes the reader to be emotionally invested in the lives of the children depicted. Ishmael lives through years of adversity and comes out able to put his experience to good use in helping others, and that is inspiring.

An Invisible Thread


“An Invisible Thread” by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski

Laura was a successful advertising executive in New York City when she passed 11-year-old Maurice on the streets one day. She hardly noticed him at first.

“His words were part of the clatter, like a car horn or someone yelling for a cab,” she wrote. “They were, you could say, just noise – the kind of nuisance New Yorkers learn to tune out.”

But something stopped Laura in her tracks, and she walked back to Maurice, invited him to McDonald’s, and began a relationship that would change both of their lives. The two began to meet weekly, and before long, Laura even included Maurice in her own family’s holiday celebrations.

“An Invisible Thread,” by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski, tells a fascinating and moving story of two people from vastly different worlds.

Their worlds were so different that when Maurice found out Laura had tracked him down to the public housing apartment he shared with many relatives, he begged her never to return there for her own safety.

“You have to promise me you’ll never go back there again,” he said. The child was trying to protect his adult mentor.

But Laura and Maurice had in common the pain of childhoods marked by chaos. Laura grew up navigating her own father’s violent alcoholic outbursts, which seemed to give her a special understanding and empathy for Maurice.

Laura tried to create a comforting routine for Maurice with weekly dinners, laundry washing, and even making him lunch for school daily. It was the kind of routine that those who have lived without really can appreciate.

Maurice requested that his lunch be give to him in a paper bag each day. He said, “Because when I see kids come to school with their lunch in a paper bag, that means someone cares about them.”

Despite warnings from friends and loved ones that she was possibly becoming too close to this child, Laura forged ahead, enjoying a relationship that has continued into Maurice’s adulthood. It is a friendship that has survived ups and downs in both their lives.

Laura’s decision in that brief moment so many years before changed two lives for the better. This is an uplifting story of love and trust.

Call of a Coward


This adventure begins when a New Jersey mother finds herself driving through Mexico with her husband and daughter, leaving behind her middle-class life to live in a Mayan village in Guatemala.

And that is just the beginning for Marcia Moston, author of “Call of a Coward.” At only 142 pages, this book is a quick read, but it’s packed with action throughout, and it paints a vivid picture of life as a missionary in Guatemala.

Moston shares her fears and reservations about the move, spurred on by her husband, who had recently returned from a mission trip. She shares the difficulties encountered in their journey, and also the deep relationships forged with people she met along the way.

As if driving through the entire country of Mexico weren’t enough to test anyone’s faith, this mother must learn how to survive and care for her family in a world very different from her own.

After her first trip up the mountain to the village, on a road without guardrails that barely accommodates two vehicles, she swears she will never take the road again, and that is only one challenge she must overcome.

Without the help of a grocery store or refrigerator, Moston must learn to feed her family. She accompanies a fellow missionary to the village butcher, who kills a cow every Saturday and hangs it from the rafters. As customers choose the piece they want, the butcher chops it off for them. The author laments this is a far cry from the styrofoam packages to which she is accustomed.

Throughout the book, the author worries she is unworthy and incapable to answer God’s call in her life, and she often questions whether He has picked the right person. When her journey takes her from the Mayan village to a small church in Vermont, she is left wondering whether her time in Guatemala was useful.

But as often happens, it all makes sense in the end, and her faithfulness is rewarded.