The Road to Home
by Vanessa Del Fabbro
(Steeple Hill, $12.95, G) ISBN 0-373-78537-2
The Road to Home is a departure from the usual run of books we review at The Romance Reader. It is being issued by Steeple Hill, an imprint of Harlequin Books that publishes inspirational fiction. Moreover, the plot lacks a romance element. It could properly be categorized as inspirational women’s fiction if there is such a genre. Readers who prefer the traditional romance novel with a hero, a heroine, and a happily ever after are likely to be disappointed, but its unusual setting and strong social conscience may appeal to others.

Monica Brunetti is a radio journalist in South Africa. She is researching a story on a home for children dying of AIDS in Soweto, Johannesburg’s twin city populated solely by blacks. She sets out to return home, but when stopped at an intersection, she is pulled from her vehicle by a carjacker and shot. When she regains consciousness a week later, she is horrified to discover that she has been brought to a black hospital. The course of the bullet through her body did serious damage; a full recovery is in doubt. Moving her to a white hospital would be too risky. The fact that she is alive at all is remarkable; Monica cannot help believing that her life was spared because God has a plan for her

Ella Nkhoma is a black single mother of two young sons. Because her husband had been unfaithful multiple times and provided no support for the boys, she threw him out of her house, but his behavior left a lasting impact. He infected her with HIV, and she has contracted AIDS. She has continued to work in public relations, but her illness is worsening. She is in the hospital bed next to Monica.

Mrs. Dube is an elderly black woman with tuberculosis. After years of service to a white family, she was forced to retire. The family gives her a pension, but her daughter-in-law steals it, and she has been moved to a cousin’s house with primitive conditions. She is in the other hospital bed next to Monica.

Monica has led a life of narrow perspective. She knows of the large black population in South Africa but has been fairly ignorant of its multitude of problems. As she comes to know the women in the hospital, her views change. She cannot be what she was before.

The Road to Home is written in first person point of view from the perspective of two narrators, Monica and Ella, with Monica’s being the predominant voice. It is she who undergoes the greatest change over the course of the story. She senses her life has been saved for a purpose, and she is determined to find out what it is. Monica’s commitment to making a difference is most believable given how she’s become more aware of the actual conditions in South Africa through her contact with individual women in the hospital. Depicted as a strong woman, Ella serves more as a counterpoint to Monica than a fully developed character of her own. Nevertheless, the friendship between the two women does not come across as implausible.

There is a certain irony in the underlying message – that blacks and whites must work together to solve South Africa’s problems. The author, herself a South Africa native, currently resides in Houston, Texas.

The book’s slow, sometimes ponderous, pacing is a negative. The strong characters can’t compensate for the unexciting, repetitive plot. In the pick-up/put-down test, The Road to Home is not a high scorer.

The book’s G rating deserves an explanation. There is no overt sexuality in the story, but there are adult themes including violence and criminal and social conditions in South Africa. Although it’s an inspirational novel, the religious themes are not heavy-handed and arise naturally from the story line. The Road to Home should be suitable for readers as young as preteens.

What makes The Road to Home especially worthy of attention is its setting. Wilbur Smith, one of my favorite authors, is South African and many of his books are set there. His books, however, focus more on the glory and majesty of Africa, not on the grinding reality of post-apartheid South Africa. A half-world away, South Africa gets little attention in American media. The Road to Home is a glimpse into another world. Readers who are interested in expanding their horizons will find this a good choice.

--Lesley Dunlap

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