Book Review – Heart of Diamonds

HoD [Disclaimer 1: I suck at reviewing fiction]

[Disclaimer 2: my only criterion when it comes to reading fiction is "is the story any good?" as in "does it keep me interested?"]

Ok, now that that’s out of the way: I LOVED Heart of Diamonds (HofD). Gosh, I lost valuable hours or sleep, work and blogging because I could not put the thing down.

Considering the fact that I very rarely read fiction (mostly sci-fi or specific friends’ recommendations and Stephen King… yeah, Stephen King… bite me… oh and Stephen King can write stories and very good feminine characters… here’s a guy who "gets" women, so there), how did I ever discover the book in the first place?

Those of you who know me or have read this blog since its inception know that I have a soft spot for Africa and have travelled to Zambia (I hope to go back in Spring 09… fingers crossed), so, I read a lot about it and bumped into Dave Donelson’s blog, saw that he had this book coming out and pre-ordered it months ago.

The one thing I liked about the book was the narrative: it’s all story – story – story. Donelson does not waste space with – what tends to turn me off in fiction – endless descriptions. He goes straight to the point. It does not mean that characters are not defined or that the context is irrelevant (quite the opposite, actually), but simply, that, again, it’s straight to the point and straight to what makes the story move forward.

The context itself is essential. The story takes place against the background of the mess that is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In HofD, the Congo itself is the thread that runs throughout the book, brings the characters together, develops and changes their relationships. In this book, the DRC is not just a prop to the characters, it makes the characters (or destroys them).

The novel itself is rich in characters. They are multiple and fairly well-defined but for anyone who has ever read or researched the African post-colonial conflicts, they are familiar: the corrupt dictator, the ruthless and cruel warlord / militia leader, the hypocritical evangelist and his cronies, the greedy investors, the shadowy military contractor, the indifferent Western media figures, the dedicated (and yet sometimes naive) relief workers, the resilient locals, the strong African women, the traumatized children. They’re all there, along with others and their stories are woven together seamlessly.

And any novel that exposes the hypocrisy of American fundamentalist evangelicals is guaranteed to have my vote! (Of course, I could not stop thinking of another fundie televangelist who got himself financially involved in Rwanda, around the time of the genocide)… And it is rather easy to "identify" certain characters and their possible real-life equivalents.

And then, there are diamonds… a perfect example of resource curse. The DRC has the diamonds, and a whole bunch of characters, both African and American, want them, out of greed. That is a simple motivation but a powerful one that has made African conflicts brutal, bloody and never-ending.

Nkisi And the Minkisi dolls which are also an intrinsic part of the story (the ones in the book don’t really look like the one of the right but it’s just to give an idea of the things).

But most of all, HofD is a thriller. There is a mystery to be solved, relating to the dolls, and Valerie Grey, the American journalist and main character (Dave Donelson also "gets" women, BTW), drags her assistant Nancy (I want Frances McDormand to play her if there is a movie based on the book) and cameraman between the US and the DRC to figure out why the dolls are being shipped from a diamond mine (recently acquired by a very wealthy televangelist – aren’t they all? – and managed by a phony fundie (who manages the mine in a way that King Leopold would not have disavowed) with the help of the government army, translation: the militia of the latest winner in the never-ending conflict) to the US, especially to a government official.

And things become a mess from there. The book is fast-paced and does not let up especially in the last third of the novel. As a result, I got a yawn out of the romantic dilemma Valerie Grey faces… I mean, seriously, who cares? Especially in the context of what is happening in the DRC… but then again, romantic stuff always bores the heck out of me and there really wasn’t too much of it.

Like I said, I hope that book becomes a movie… except I’m afraid they might ruin it. Trailer below. Just buy the book or get your library to buy it.

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