Desert Isle Keeper
In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills
One of my 2018 reading goals is to increase the number of books I read that take place in places other than the U.S. and Europe, so when I read the blurb for In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills, I leapt at the chance to review it. It’s a story of indescribable depth, and I’m so very glad I took a chance on an unknown author and picked it up.
Rachel Shepherd’s father abandoned her when she was a young child, a fact that has shaped her life in ways she doesn’t fully understand. It’s been nearly twenty years since she saw or heard from him, and the pain of his absence sometimes feels as fresh as it did on the day she woke up to find him gone. Now, after suffering a miscarriage, Rachel is feeling particularly adrift. Her husband seems to expect her to set aside her grief and get on with the business of living, but Rachel isn’t ready to do that quite yet, and instead, she feels strangely compelled to reconnect with her father. Maybe if she learns why he left her and her mother all those years ago, she can finally find some peace.
Thirty years earlier, Lillian Carlson left the United States behind and headed to Rwanda, a place where she hoped she could make a noticeable difference to those around her. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. hit her hard, and she’s no longer content to live a life of privilege and plenty. Instead, she establishes a small orphanage near the Rift Valley and has spent the past three decades creating a safe haven for the children orphaned by the seemingly endless violence the citizens of Rwanda visit upon one another.
Rachel discovers a link between her father and Lillian, and she immediately reaches out to Lillian via email, hoping the other woman might be able to help her reconnect with him. There’s a part of Lillian that knows she should respond to Rachel’s request and share the story of the tumultuous relationship she shared with Henry, but another part of her is unwilling to open up old wounds. She and Henry have been lovers on and off for the past thirty years, but it’s been five years since Lillian last laid eyes on him, and the reasons for his sudden departure from her life aren’t things she feels comfortable sharing with his daughter. Fortunately, Tucker, a local doctor is able to convince her that opening up to Rachel might bring her some amount of personal healing. It’s not an easy decision, but once Rachel arrives in Rwanda and begins working her way into the hearts of those around her, Lillian begins to warm to the younger woman.
With the help of Lillian and her adopted daughter Nadine, Rachel begins to piece together bits of information about her father’s life. Unfortunately, what she discovers will test her in ways she never thought possible, for Henry was keeping some terrible secrets from everyone who loved him. What these three very different women discover as they search for the truth about Henry and about themselves could bring them closer together, or tear them apart forever.
The story is told from various points of view. Rachel and Lillian are our main narrators, but we also spend time with Tucker, Nadine, and even Henry himself. I’m a big fan of this narrative style, as it allows the reader to see things from a variety of perspectives rather than only getting one or two sides of the story.
The author has managed to create a group of very complex characters, people I sometimes struggled to like. Lillian was especially difficult for me to relate to, because while I admired the selfless way she opens her heart and home to countless orphaned children, I sometimes found her attitude toward the adults in her life hard to swallow. She seems to always want to be the person in charge, even if the decisions she makes aren’t the right ones, and she obviously resents anyone who tries to change her mind about things. She does get better about this as the story progresses though, and I liked her quite a bit better in the second half of the book than I did at the beginning.
In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills proved to be a very challenging read for me, not because I disliked the story, but because the subject matter was incredibly difficult to take in. I don’t live under a rock, so I’m aware of the brutality taking place all over the world, but Ms. Haupt brings it to life in such a stark, visceral way. There were a few times I had to step away from the book, just to give myself time to process some of the horrifying things the characters were experiencing. Even so, I am so glad I chose to read this novel, and I urge anyone looking for a fascinating story with diverse characters and a complex plot to give it a try.