Don’t let this exceptional new novel fall under the radar! Based on war-torn Africa and the innocent people caught in the middle, the stunning debut of The Atlas of Forgotten Places by Jenny D. Williams takes us to Uganda where a young girl, Lily, goes missing. The authorities are hard to come by and disorganized, so her aunt Sabine, a former aid worker, travels from Germany to the village where she was last seen. She intends to trace Lily’s steps and try to understand if she was in danger and kidnapped, or if she had a motive to disappear. At the same time a Ugandan woman, Rose (who was previously kidnapped and abused by the Lord’s Resistance Army but now back in her village) is looking for her missing boyfriend, Ocen. Sabine and Rose work together to unravel the intertwined lives of their loved ones, leading them back to their own deep, dark secrets.
Having had aid work experience herself, author Jenny D. Williams takes us on a vividly portrayed journey through Uganda, and it shows in this incredible story inspired by real events. In 1996 there was an abduction of 139 school girls from St. Mary’s College in northern Uganda. Operation Lighting Thunder was the name of the military action by the Ugandan government against LRA forces. In the book, one of the characters talks about the problems there saying, “The conflict in Congo is probably the most complicated war in the world. Two wars, technically, in the last twenty years, but they overlap quite a bit. Nine African nations. Twenty armed groups. Five and a half million people dead, mostly from disease and starvation. Large-scale fighting has been occurring in various provinces since Rwanda invaded eastern Congo – it was Zaire, then – 1996. Ever since, the country has been mired in one conflict after another.”
Jenny D. Williams has traveled and lived in Uganda and then to Germany where she wrote the book. Her knowledge of the country is evident and her complex characters slowly reveal themselves as we learn about their pasts. With beautifully expressed emotion and character complexity, Williams allowed me to feel the pain and struggles as the story progressed. She provided insight into why the characters are who they are, giving them dimension.
During the frantic search for her niece, Sabine recalls her deceased sister’s comment about being a mother, “It feels as though a piece of my heart exists outside my own body, in another person. And I can never get it back.” Sabine is introspective and recognizes why she will never have children. “Why would you want a piece of your heart in such a precarious location as someone else’s body? Why choose that uncertainty, that terror, that utter lack of control? As she grew older, this approach extended to lovers and friends, because how could she do her job if her heart was elsewhere? Love made you selfish; love made you choose some above others. And so all these many years later, her heart was lonely but whole. Unseen – but intact.”
With a mix of beautiful writing and chocked full of emotion, this suspenseful and historically rich debut is not one to be missed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jenny D. Williams holds an MFA from Brooklyn College and a BA from UC Berkeley. She has been published in The Sun Magazine, Vela, Ethical Traveler, and Michigan Quarterly Review for her fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and illustrative work. She currently lives in Seattle, where she is a UX writer for Google. The Atlas of Forgotten Places is her first novel.