This is a richly layered story of family and the wounds that divide and unite. “We are all fixing what is broken,” says the narrator, Marion. “It is the task of a lifetime.”
Set in Ethiopia, the book begins in the 1950s. In a small hospital, a nun who no one knew was pregnant dies giving birth to twins. The surgeon who is most likely the father flees the country, and a woman doctor adopts the boys. She rocks them, “thrilled by their peaceful smiles. Their mother lay dead in the same room, their father had run, but they knew nothing of that . . . I won the lottery without buying a ticket. These two babies plugged a hole in my heart that I didn’t know I had until now.” The babies grow up to be physicians; twin Marion returns to Ethiopa to piece together his family heritage years after going to America. He comments that you live life forward, “but understand it backward.”
Here are 5 reasons I recommend this extraordinary book.
1. A mystery lies at the center of the story and it’s unraveled slowly, making for a compelling read. A long-lost letter hidden in plain sight finally supplies the missing heart of the mystery.
2. The reader immediately enters the world of the hospital compound at Missing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopa because of the author’s ability to set a scene. “Missing sat on a verdant rise, the irregular cluster of white-washed one- and two-story buildings looking as if they were pushed up from the ground in the same geologic rumble that created the Entoto Mountains. Troughlike flower beds, fed by the runoff form the roof gutters, surrounded the squat buildings like a moat.” Missing was designed to “resemble an arboretum . . . or Eden before the Fall.” This is the scene of the majority of the book, and it’s lovely to dwell there.
3. Missing is involved in the bloody political coups of this time in Ethiopa. Emporer Haile Selassie passes by in a green Rolls Royce. Military rebels demand medical treatment. A murder is committed and the body and motorcycle buried on the grounds, putting everyone there at risk of being executed. A father is imprisoned, a plane is hijacked. This all brings a thick layer of tension to Marion’s story.
4. The abject poverty of Missing and the stark simplicity of the hospital in its lack of resources make us readers thankful for the amazing advances and medical training we benefit from. People die from treatable conditions and succumb to preventable disease in Missing despite the dedication of the doctors. It’s cause to stop and think about how fortunate we are.
5. The author is a physician. When he writes of medical procedures, the detail is not only astounding but also accurate. And always germane to the story.
This book is about the trust that comes from love in contrast to the fear that alienates. Some of the broken people heal, some don’t, and some die too young to fix the brokenness. It’s a story set a world away in a different time, but people haven’t changed at all. In this mystery, we see ourselves.