To be strong enough for the path she's chosen, 42-year-old American midwife Kate Banner, the protagonist of this moving novel, must ""cut off pieces of her heart."" Her three-week visit to Mexico during the 1980s becomes an eight-year Central American sojourn once she witnesses the poverty and war-torn devastation of the people she encounters and decides to help. She delivers babies and administers basic medicine at an makeshift clinic, and travels, passionately but somewhat aimlessly, from Mexico to Nicaragua to Guatemala. She moves through the countrysides both with and without her compadres, a group of mostly North American activists, including the lover who soon leaves her and a priest whose love for Kate makes him question his vows. After experiencing many tragic losses, Kate occasionally wrestles with the notion of returning home to Indiana, but her heart (however assaulted) lies with the native peoples and their struggles. Her sacrifices achieve meaning when a collectively imagined school/clinic for destitute Guatemalan children becomes a very real possibility. And when Hummingbird House is established, Kate is satisfied she has helped make one lasting contribution to a community despite all she has lost, including, she laments, her youth. This first novel by short story writer (The Secret of Cartwheels) and poet (Back Roads) Henley is darkly atmospheric, with fluent dialogue and an assured prose style. Numerous subplots, though clearly heartfelt and informative, sometimes detract from Kate's centrality. The prismatic trajectory of the tale may be deliberate, for the author's message is double-edged: that trying for a better world is necessary, demanding work, but no one can save herself through saving the world. Kate's tale rings true in her realistic conclusion that gross injustice calls for more than merely sorrow, but also rage, sacrifice and the ability to simultaneously love and lose. (Apr.) FYI: A portion of the author's royalties will be donated in support of human rights worldwide.
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999 Release date: 04/01/1999 Genre: Fiction