Monday, January 19, 2015

"The Woman Who Lost Her Soul" by Bob Shacocchis - A Stunning Achievement and a Magnum Opus

"The Woman Who Lost Her Soul" is one of the most impressive works of fiction I have read in a long while.  Mr. Shacocchis begins with his deep knowledge of disparate parts of the world - Haiti, Istanbul, D.C., Bosnia - a weaves together in this magnum opus a complex tale of warfare, spycraft, voodoo ceremonies, double dealing, family intrigue, star-crossed lovers and grudges that have endured for millennia.  The action of the story covers five decades and four countries.  Like Kurosawa's legendary film, "Rashomon,"  incidents that make up key plot elements in this story are told multiple times through they eyes of more than one protagonist.  At the center of it all is the mercurial and enigmatic Jackie, a.k.a. Dottie, a.k.a Renee.  Just outside of St. Marc in Haiti, on the road from Port-au-Prince to Cap Haitien, she falls in a hail of bullets, and is carted off in a casket aboard a U.S. military flight. Several individuals want to know what really happened to her, who she was, and what she was doing in Haiti. The time sequence flips back to WWII and forward to  the War on Terror.

There are several complex love stories - or at least stories of lust, multiple layers of identity and military and para-military assignments, complicity in crimes at the highest levels of U.S. and Haitian governments, Delta Force operatives and Black Ops, corrupt UN officials, assassinations and faked deaths.  All of this action might be too much to take were it not wrapped in most glorious prose.  I am pleased to offer just a small sampling of the author's stunningly beautiful and insightful style of writing:

"On the flight across the Bay of Gonaives the Chinook speared through the top of a squall, bumping in and out of the storm's cluster of cells, purple whirlwinds of rain opening into brilliant white celestial amphitheaters of billowing cumulus, then slamming back into the tempest, the rain shearing off into calm blue fields scrubbed with sunlight, then shearing back into a dark whip of chaos, and when it was over, Tom felt spiritually alive and filled with gratitude.  Then they descended to the infested wasteland that was Gonaives." (Page 134)

And this poignant glimpse into the price that military wives and mothers pay for the ravages of war:

"But she was a military wife, military widow, and military mother,self-trained to believe that it was not safe to feel a free range of sentiment, and she did not linger on her heartaches but stored them away in the root cellar of her solitude, there for when she felt depraved and needed the remedy of their cruel nourishment." (Page 512)

Through the national disgrace of Haiti's chronic turmoil, the broiling hatred of the Balkans  and the layer cake of intrigue among three-letter agencies, a series of very personal stories and vignettes emerge that are all intertwined into a tangle as impenetrable as concertina wire atop a prison wall.  And because of Shacocchis' insights and soaring prose, we come to care about many of those who manage to live beyond the reach of normal human caring.

This book is a stunning achievement.



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