While I found the book interesting because of the content, which was partly about volunteering one’s time and working in the South Sudan to help those less fortunate, I found Brigid Fitzgerald to be a totally implausible character. The authors overplayed their hands by portraying her innocence and potential godliness without giving her real substance in that regard. I found her experiences of falling in and out of love so frequently, each time expressing disbelief about being loved,, highly implausible. They made her seem shallow. As far as her being chosen by G-d to be a conduit, it seemed totally far-fetched. She never seemed to rise to that level of saintliness, and she had no real attachment to religion in any truly religious sense for most of her life. She believed in her faith, but she rarely practiced it. Still, as human beings go, she did have a Mother Theresa aspect to her. She sacrificed her life for others, placed herself in grave danger knowing full well she might be killed, and she chose to do this over having a lucrative medical practice. She was highly trained and very capable, but she was more dedicated to caring for others and more loyal to her friends than she was to her church or the making of money. She remained dedicated to the friends, patients and friends she made during the years she worked in Africa.
The book begins 20 years in the future with an attempt on Brigid Fitzgerald’s life in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It then moves to the present day where she is found at a place called Kind Hands, in the South Sudan. She is young, unmarried, childless, and she is working in a dangerous place where medical facilities are almost always poorly equipped and also poorly defended from attacks by brutal, hostile gangs. There she falls in love with Colin who is killed because of her foolishness. They are in the middle of a terrible attack, with bullets coming at them from all sides, when she insists he help her in a futile attempt to evacuate a mortally wounded man, although there are thousands of other wounded, dying and dead all around her. During the attempt, a bullet finds Colin who is then mortally wounded. She herself sustains devastating wounds. After a long recovery, she goes to a close friend in Italy, and begins to work again. She meets another man, Karl Lenz. He is much older than she is, but they fall in love and have a child. They live in Berlin and are wonderfully happy. Both the child and father die suddenly when he suffers a heart attack, falls down a flight of steps and gravely injures the child in the process. After the death of both, she returns to South Sudan and helps to capture the brutal leader of the Gray Army which is a wild, roaming militia. Colonel Dage Zuberi is responsible for the brutal death of many in the South Sudan, and she is given credit for bringing him down.
After recovering from that harrowing experience, she begins to work with Prism, a drug rehab center. There she meets a priest accused of improper conduct with a student, a male student. The church refuses to back him up, but she believes in him and engages a lawyer. Eventually, after his acquittal, James leaves the church and begins a new movement called JMJ. The Jesus, Mary and Joseph movement is dedicated to more openness and freedom. Women can be ordained, members of the clergy may marry. They believe that Jesus would have welcomed that idea. James and Brigit decide to marry and they build a JMJ church where James officiates. When James professed his love for her, Brigid was once again surprised that someone loved her. She then suddenly realized that she was also in love with him. They have a child, Gilly, and their church thrives. However, the Catholic Church threatens James with excommunication and worse. They will paint him as a pervert unless they stop the movement. As the JMJ church grows and gains more followers, some in the church hierarchy grow even angrier. When James dies suddenly from an aneurism, Brigid once again suffers a loss and rails against G-d, questioning why he seems to grant her happiness only to take it away. Why would G-d do that? When Brigid is ordained, she begins to perform services in their church. Occasionally, she believes that G-d is communicating with her. This is a constant theme in the book.
Is Brigid’s uncanny ability to communicate with G-d after suffering a head injury real? She wonders if this is really happening to her or if she is imagining it. She wonders about it, even as the reader is wondering with her. Why would G-d communicate with her, and what would G-d’s message to her mean? When she was suddenly summoned to the Vatican, she wondered why the Pope would summon her. Their conversation is even more bizarre than the rest of the book. They both have the same kinds of conversations with G-d.
When the idea of a woman Pope in introduced, one truly has to suspend disbelief, and even then, it is hard to believe it. The story lines simply feel completely implausible, and the path from Brigit’s medical career to a divinity career, to rumor’s of her being Pope, even after having a child, are just out of the realm of possibility. The book was way too melodramatic for me and way too unrealistic. Brigid never seemed to be fully aware of what her actions would cause, or of what her own circumstances actually were, nor did she seem to learn from any experiences she had. She seemed to make the same mistakes over and over. Yet, she seemed to be loved by all, almost as a saint, and is given credit for things that make no apparent sense and do not seem to be the result of any logical progression. Also, Brigid seems to fall in and out of love with abandon, almost without her knowing it. Suddenly she realizes how much she loves the person who is proposing, only as he is proposing. Even after James dies, a former acquaintance, Zach, reenters her life, and she enjoys his company too. If I were Zach, I would steer clear of her. Everyone she marries or loves suddenly dies. Although she is described as someone who is not a great beauty, there must be something wonderful about her to make so many men and others fall in with her. She is extremely kind and compassionate and is dedicated to saving life even at the risk of her own, but she is also arrogant and headstrong to a fault and her sometimes seeming irrational behavior actually caused the death of others. I was disappointed with the book because the theory of a woman Pope is simply not in the realm of reality in the current day and twenty years into the future is also too short a time for such epiphanies to occur.