Lara Santoro translated from the Africa, AIDS epidemic


Publication Date: Sep 17, 2007

288 pp


List Price US $23.95
ISBN: 9781590512715

A transcendent and powerful first novel about two women seeking justice and hope in Africa

With a swift, compressed narrative style and compassionate vision that recalls the works of Graham Greene, Lara Santoro offers an indelible portrait of Africa in the throes of an epidemic that will ultimately constitute the largest loss of life, love, memory, and hope in modern history.

Anna is an Italian-born journalist based in Kenya. What began as an exploratory three-week tour of Africa has turned into two years of tough assignments and hard living that have provoked a personal crisis: “‘We don’t do massacres,’ Warren, my editor, warned, but what else was there to do? ‘Give us the ray of light in the dark,’ but there was no light to speak of. The longer I stayed, the angrier I became . . . ”

Mercy is the large, flamboyantly dressed African woman who ambushes Anna in the market one day and talks herself into a job as Anna’s housemaid. Soon Mercy is organizing interviews for Anna in Nairobi’s worst slum and establishing much-needed order in the journalist’s disheveled life. While tension and misunderstanding punctuate Anna and Mercy’s developing relationship, the two women establish a genuine connection that gives each the courage to battle injustice, greed, and cynicism.

Smart, suspenseful, and ultimately heart-wrenching, Mercy is a powerful tale of moral outrage and personal transformation.

Excerpt from Mercy

“Santoro, who has covered the African AIDS epidemic, evokes the continent’s everyday horrors and uncommon moments of grace in decidedly unsentimental prose, and her depiction of international journalists’ lifestyles is similarly powerful….[T]he characters and their complicated relationships remain stirring until the end.” —Publishers Weekly

“Santoro’s experience as a journalist is evident in her straightforward prose…this debut is a notable tale of contemporary forms of suffering and relationships.” —Booklist

“Africa—anguished, impoverished, monstrously beautiful—takes the measure of every novelist daring enough to confront its mysteries. Lara Santoro’s Mercy swirls around a self-immolating Italian-born journalist named Anna, the two wildly attractive men she attracts and deflects, and her self-appointed housekeeper, aforce of nature named Mercy. The urgent message of this gorgeously written novel, which deals head-on with the ravages of AIDS on a continent of grief: Open your eyes and look hard.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

“Santoro has been covering the AIDS pandemic, wars, genocide, famines….Now she’s out with a novel about a hard drinking journalist working in Africa. It has some of the obvious Graham Greene echoes, but that’s never been a bad thing.” —Critical Mass

“[Santoro] pens a tightly written first novel with complex characters and a gripping storyline. While a work of fiction, Santoro’s authority comes from personal experience in Africa and her first-hand knowledge of international journalism.” —Tampa Tribune Online

“There’s a great tradition of memorable servants in the world’s literature, from Jeeves in P.G. Wodehouse’s novels to Toundi in ‘Houseboy’ by Ferdinand Oyono. One is tempted to add Lara Santoro’s Mercy to that list….Santoro’s portrayal of her title character is vivid. Along with Father Anselmo, a cantankerous, rather grubby old priest who works in the slums and celebrates as many as three dozen funeral Masses in a week, Mercy powers the novel and keeps the reader reading.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Mercy is clearly a metaphor for Africa itself. She’s big, colorful, full of life and can’t be ignored. Yet she is vulnerable. When she gets sick, her illness becomes a soapbox for Santoro to use to open larger issues…some of the most thought-provoking and moving writing you’ll ever read.” —The Advocate

“A tough and touching novel…Santoro has a gift for language, description, and honesty…Not only does Santoro write well, but she has the guts and commitment to turn the foul effects of disaster capitalism—pharmaceutical piracy—into a story of Mercy. Lara Santoro is the real thing.” —Taos Daily News

1. Anna, the narrator of Mercy, is self-destructing, succumbing to “the pain and riot” of “burned, bloodied Africa.” Tension is inherent in all war coverage. Do you imagine Anna to be typical of journalists in war-ravaged surroundings?

2. What is your initial reaction to the character Mercy? In what situations throughout the novel does the author put Mercy that perhaps causes you to change your view of her?

3. Discuss the relationship between Anna and Mercy and how the author develops both characters.

4. The author shows us obvious differences between Michael and Nick. What is it about each one that draws Anna to him? Are they alike in any ways?

5. Discuss the character Father Anselmo. What is his relationship with the people of Korogocho? With Anna? With Mercy? What does he represent?

6. The act of care-giving comes full circle between Anna and Mercy. What similarities are there in how they take care of each other? How is it different? How does it bond them?

7. Discuss the protest movement that Mercy initiates. What are the dynamics of that movement? What rules does Mercy insist upon? What makes the movement effective?

8. At the end of the book the author quotes scripture from 1 Corinthians 13. How is the author using this passage to comment on the story the novel tells? What does “mercy” mean in this context?

9. Does Mercy’s and Anna’s story make you want to know more about the AIDS epidemic in Africa? Does it make you question the role the U.S. has played?

10. Western writers (Isak Dinesen, Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Barbara Kingsolver, John le Carré) have long been drawn to Africa. What other novels set in Africa have you read? Discuss the portrait of Africa that emerges from Mercy. What qualities of the continent and its people does the novel evoke? In what ways does Mercy continue the tradition of Western authors writing about Africa? In what ways does the novel depart from that tradition?