This particular novel was another one of my new library finds, picked up somewhat on a whim. I was digging through the audio book section, looking for new authors to listen to on my way to work and stumbled across The Book of Strange New Things, a gem by dutch author Michel Faber.
Here’s the Excerpt:
It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter.
Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable. While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival. Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.
This book was a piece of artwork, a careful mix of science fiction, religion, horror, and romance. The author skillfully weaves the tale of a husband and wife separated not only by the vacuum of space, but also by their drastically differing emotional experiences- a missionary on a wonderful new planet surrounded by an eager flock and a lonely nurse struggling to survive without her husband in a dangerous world on the brink of destruction.
The character development was spectacular. Peter, a Christian missionary with a dark past, is honestly portrayed as a man of deep faith, but still human and fallible. This is seen time and time again through his bumbling interactions with his wife, a strong woman obviously struggling to find her way through a drastically changing world on her own. The character interactions are utterly real and believable throughout the book, not only between Peter and his wife, but also with the other flawed inhabitants of the USIC base.
One of the USIC personnel members you meet in the book is Alex, a female pharmacist who also acts as Peter’s guide to his new home. There are several scenes involving her interactions with the natives, dispensing medicine and attempting to explain proper usage and warnings despite the language barrier. I’ve been in exactly her place, during a mission trip to Honduras while I was still in school. Faber does an exceptional job portraying the problems of miscommunication and awkwardness that can ensue during such interactions. It was perfect.
Beyond the characters, Faber paints a vivid picture of the new planet, Oasis, and its unique inhabitants, bringing them to life. You are right there on the planet with the main character. Meanwhile, the use of written letters between husband and wife also gives an interesting singular point of view of the destruction happening on Earth throughout the story, giving just enough information to begin understanding the horrors taking place while leaving plenty to the imagination.
Now, despite the deeply religious overtones of this book, it is still very gritty. As a warning, there are multiple scenes with either explicit or assumed sexual interactions and frequent mentions of drug use as well as child abuse. Death and destruction are mentioned throughout the book despite the main character’s mostly non-violent nature.
Overall I loved this book. You fall in love with the characters and really hope to see everything turn out all right for them in the end. I give this book five our of five stars!