Book Review of African Heartbeat: A Novel

March 9, 2018

This book review was originally published in the William Carey International Development Journal. One of the key themes in the book being reviewed, dependency, has been a frequent theme in the journal Ralph Winter founded and edited, Mission Frontiers. Glenn Schwartz was a frequent contributor on that theme and one of his earlier articles, “How Missionary Attitudes Can Create Dependency,” has a lot in common with some of the themes this novel illustrates.

 

In his novel, African Heartbeat and a Vulnerable Fool, WCIU adjunct faculty member Jim Harries gives the Western reader an opportunity to vicariously experience an immersion in African cultures with all the confusing realities. It is based on true stories and events, and takes place in the fictional African country of Holima.

 

Presenting “novel” concepts in fictional form is a good way to get past peoples’ initial resistance to some of the “vulnerable mission” thinking Jim Harries has been trying for years to get across to Western mission agencies and workers. The descriptions of the people and surroundings are compelling. Through interesting dialog and circumstances we learn about the dilemma of a white missionary, Philo, wondering if he should do things the African way along with the humble acknowledgment that he doesn’t know the answers. Many interesting adventures illustrate the African way of life in contrast to the missionaries’ comfortable, more luxurious lives.

 

Compelling stories enable readers to discover for themselves numerous cultural misunderstandings. Among the difficult issues raised in the narrative are the problems with the use of English instead of African languages, style of punishment, sustainability of capitalism in Africa, African vs. Western leadership of institutions, sense of time, foreign money and gifts, different ways of reasoning, understanding of land, work ethic, the reasons for poverty, what is poverty, Western assumptions that do not fit the cultural context, witchcraft, exorcism of demons, “what is truth?”, dependency, outside resources, the possibility of development, and problems caused by Western generosity,

 

This book would be a good resource for prospective cross-cultural workers to help them be aware of what they are “going to meet up with” (p. 165). Order information for the book is located here.

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