Reading this book, I was reminded once again of how little is required of me as a Christian in the United States—and how little I have invested in what I say is important to me. These characters were willing to endure the most horrendous things—and love the people doing those things—because of who they described as their “beautiful Jesus.” So many of the characters’ actions were convicting, not only the characters who were sacrificing everything for the cause of Christ, but also the characters who were searching and empty or thought they were entitled to have what they wanted.
The author brought the refugee camps alive in the opening scenes of the book, and the closeups of life as an American ambassador in a Communist country were very well done. Alexander’s slow growth throughout the book, from caring only about himself to bucking State in order to protect a single person, was a highlight of the book for me. It didn’t go all the way, but it went far enough to be realistic and leave the story with a note of hope. I also enjoyed Yuri, Anna, and Loretta—the romance here was all between married couples, and that was beautiful (if a bit intimate at times). I was not as fond of the cover Yuri and Loretta had to concoct; the accusations and suspicions and innuendo of an affair is simply not my cup of tea, even when there is no affair involved. But then, I’ve never been afraid for my life under Communist rule, so I can’t say what I might have done. I definitely don’t know if I could have done what Anna did, bringing the gospel to the most disreputable parts of town at the risk of her own life. At the same time, she and Yuri had real fears and struggles.
This book’s claim of being a suspenseful thriller fell a little flat for me. Many of the scenes and plot threads that could have been thrilling and suspenseful were merely summarized or happened too tidily for any real sense of action. I felt that was also true of the separated-twins storyline. A lot of things seemed to wrap up too quickly for the weight they should have carried. The strength of this book was in its characters and its portrayal of faith under persecution.
As suspense fiction, this book was mediocre. As a study in characters and settings, it was good. But as a reminder of what other Christians have suffered and continue to suffer, it was excellent.