In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills, Jennifer Haupt: Book Review

A tale of love, family, and war.

In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills Jennifer Haupt Book ReviewCentral Avenue Publishing / Jennifer Haupt
In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills Book Cover In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills
Jennifer Haupt
Fiction
Central Avenue Publishing
April 1, 2018
Paperback
384

In 1968, a disillusioned Lillian Carlson left Atlanta after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. She found meaning in the hearts of orphaned children in Rwanda and cobbled together her own small orphanage in the Rift Valley. Three decades later, in New York City, Rachel Shepherd, lost and heartbroken herself, embarks on a journey to find the father who abandoned her, a now-famous photographer. When an online search turns up a clue to his whereabouts, Rachel travels to Rwanda to connect with an unsuspecting and uncooperative Lillian. As Rachel tries to unravel the mystery of her father's disappearance, she finds an unexpected ally in a young Tutsi woman who lived through a profound experience alongside her father. Set amongst the gaping wounds of a healing country, follow the intertwining stories of three women who discover something unexpected: grace when there can be no forgiveness.

Jennifer Haupt‘s debut novel In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills tackles heavy subject matter of both the personal and political. It is just as much a story about the large-scale brutality of the Rwandan genocide and the Civil Rights movement as it is about the smaller tragedies of the family unit. The multiple-point-of-view narrative Haupt builds is an all-encompassing tale of love, loss, family, and the horrors of war.

The novel begins with Rachel Shepherd, a 33-year-old bartender, who desperately wants to find out what happened to her father, Henry Shepherd. He left the family when Rachel was eight. For many years she thought that Henry—now a famous photographer—had not bothered to make contact with her at all throughout her childhood and young adulthood. She comes to find, however, that things were not as they seemed. Her mother, Merilee, has just died from cancer, and, on her deathbed, suggests that Henry may have tried to reach out to young Rachel after all. Her jealousy over the bond Henry and Rachel shared, as well as Henry’s constant traveling, made Merilee resentful.

Now, some twenty-five years later, Rachel discovers a treasure trove of postcards Henry had sent to her over the years hidden inside a box Merilee left Rachel after she died. She needs to know more about him, especially since her marriage is crumbling and everything rests on the birth of her baby girl.

Halfway across the world, a woman named Lillian Carlson is running an orphanage in Rwanda for children who have lost their families in the war. She, too, is coping with the loss of Henry Shepherd with whom she’s had an intimate relationship since she was a young woman. For years, Henry had been a constant in her life until he moved to London permanently, effectively abandoning another family.

Rachel reaches out to her with the hope that she will be able to give her some information about Henry and help her get closure for the sake of her own family. From that moment on, the lives of these two women and their allies are bound together by the presence/absence of Henry Shepherd.

Haupt does an excellent job of building a sound narrative driven by the voices of well-developed characters. Their introspection provides moments of profound insight and clarity, exhibiting their greatest passions and vulnerabilities. Though the transition between these multiple perspectives is not always smooth, the plotting of each moment—and the shifting back and forth between time periods—appears effortless for Haupt.

I highly recommend In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills for a story that moves seamlessly through eras, countries, and heartbreaks without breaking stride. It is beautiful, poignant, and immensely readable.

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Leah Rodriguez
the authorLeah Rodriguez
Contributing Writer
Reader. Writer. Cat enthusiast. Trying to put that BA in English to good use.

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