Today I am delighted to be hosting my spot on the blog tour for Will Campbell’s debut novel Sometimes the Darkness. Packed with hard hitting messages, painfully real characters, and history that so many try to ignore this one that I more people will take the time to read. Bravo!
American Hanley Martin is troubled by his success. A wealthy aerospace industrialist, he was taught he should help others as a means of balancing the scales for his good fortune. He searches for ways to give back that will comfort his soul.
A trip to the Paris Air Show in 1999 changes the course of Martin’s life when the head of a Catholic mission in southern Sudan tells him of the need for pilots to fly medical supplies and visiting doctors to and from their remote clinic and school in Mapuordit, which sits on the refugee trail from Darfur to Kenya.
Sister Marie Claire, a French nun working at the Mapuordit mission, helps the Sudanese people fleeing the war in Darfur. She’s crafted a network of volunteers to save the children sold into slavery and forced to work in the country’s more prosperous cities. She needs only one additional piece to complete her plan.
As Hanley Martin and his plane arrive at Mapuordit, she asks herself if the American may be the answer to her prayers.
Sometimes the Darkness is the first novel by the author Will Campbell. It tells the story of two people brought together by fate and the price they pay helping a horrific war’s most vulnerable victims.
Jumma, the young Sudanese who has become Hanley’s assistant, while on a flight with the American Hanley Martin, remembers the time when the war in Darfur, the darkness, came to their village for the first time.
His father drank water from an old blue metal cup with white speckles, a cup Jumma had seen his grandmother drink from, then said, “I know I have said the troubles will not visit us here. But, this has changed. We must talk of how we can protect each other should the war make its way to this village. We will talk about it, we will practice it, like you practice your school lesson, for someday, you may need these lessons to help each other. We must not be afraid, but we must be smart. Do you understand?” his father asked. Jumma remembered nodding at the question. Drinking again, his father reached for him, rubbed his head and smiled. Jumma also remembered the warmth of his father’s hand, could still feel it, the recollection of the touch brought him joy, as he flew with the American to Kenya.
The discussion and the lessons of his father continued in the days before the men on horseback arrived. The instructions, the lessons, were simple suggestions repeated each evening. If separated, they were to make their way to Rumbek, farther south, away from the fighting. Each family member was to say their father worked as a laborer for a company that constructed roads and dug wells. If caught, they were to say the family went to Abyei, the ancestral home.
His father worked in a shop in Uwayl, making sandals, belts and pouches. The shop, like a cave, dark and deep, its walls were a faded stucco, his work table near the rear, kept the family fed. His father did not talk of moving. Their home was sound, a good place for Jumma and his family. A small productive garden, some chickens and goats also helped keep them fed. It was a good life, he was told. Their good life may have continued on, had the war not come to them. His mother called the war the loss of sunshine, or sometimes the darkness.
Blinking rapidly, Jumma woke to a rattling sound in the distance. There were gaps in the sound, no rhythm to it. The duration of each packet of sound lasted but a few seconds, a thrumming, like rocks thrown against cement blocks. Listening, he heard the sounds of the house in between the rattles, the creaks and murmurs, the sound of breathing, his sisters and parents. Years later, he would remember the sounds of his family breathing, the last comforting sound before the darkness descended on his family.
I’m not going to lie, this is one novel that it took me a little while to warm up to. The beginning is packed with loads of context and exposition, so it takes a good chunk of reading before anything truly exciting begins to take shape. The same can be said for the characters, there is a lot of ground-laying and back story, but once the story kicks off even those characters that I found frustrating at the beginning took on new dimensions and quickly earned my admiration.
Let’s face it, it’s easy to dislike Hanley Martin, throwing away all the success that others would kill to have. I spent so much time wondering how this was going to be anything more than some self-gratifying mission – much like Sister Mary Claire. Boy was I wrong! And, when it comes to books, I love being wrong. As the book progressed Hanley got more real, less conceited, and finally started to ask the questions that really mattered.
Sister Mary Claire, on the other hand, was a character that I gravitated to almost immediately. The surly rebel nun instantly caught my attention and never failed to relinquish it after she was introduced. I appreciated how she questioned absolutely everything including her faith, herself, her position, as well as where and how she was truly needed. Her dedication and commitment was more touching and inspiring than Hanley’s quest, and I was left wanting to know more about her.
I was initially curious as to why so many ‘smaller’ characters such as Hanley daughter, Rocky, and Jumma were included as primary perspectives rather than simply being left as supporting characters, but the end result was absolutely stunning. The way everything came together carefully crafted, and really added to the emotional resolution of some hard-fought battles.
The time and the location of the novel made for an interesting read, especially as it calls out global indifference to genocide and human trafficking. We need more works that examine the human impact these events have on the world, and not just the impacts that events like these have on global markets and the profits of individuals. For this alone I can’t help but praise Sometimes the Darkness with it’s real, gritty intensity and refusal to bow down to an ugly subject. I laughed, I cried, and I found myself completely caught up in the shifting perspectives of not only characters, but also the situation itself.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! It’s an outstanding debut novel, and I am sure that there are many, more amazing things to come from Mr. Campbell.
Will Campbell is the pen name of Stephen Weir. He lives in Charleston and Greenville, WV. Stephen Weir is a former certified economic developer (CEcD) with over thirty years experience managing economic development organisations from the city to state level. He has also worked in international trade, helping establish the West Virginia’s first international trade office in Nagoya, Japan. He has previously published economic development articles and op-ed pieces in the Economic Development Review, West Virginia Executive Magazine and the Charleston Daily Mail and Gazette. His interest in politics, literature and writing led to the penning of his debut novel.
Many thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Authoright Marketing & Publicity for organizing this blog tour, and to Will Campbell for sharing an ARC of his debut novel in exchange for an honest review (and in paper copy too!).
Also, my most sincerely apologies for what it sure to be seen as a late posting – I completely forgot that this was a UK blog tour and scheduled it in my Canadian Mountain Time!