Over the weekend I finished So Many Africas: Six Years in A Zambian Village by my friend Jill Kandel (link goes to book trailer). Gorgeous. Moving. Yes, I had a lump in my throat and a watery eyes as the book reached its final chapters. But the book is more than gorgeous prose and moving chapters. It's one of the finest examples I've seen of how the specific becomes universal, of how the writer's weaving together of a story pulls in threads common to her readers' stories. This is quite an accomplishment given that Kandel's story is likely to be as foreign as a story can get to that of any of her readers. This is not a story of living in an African tourist house or a US embassy; no home-away-from-home sort of arrangement. Kandel writes of the ordeal of buying meat in the village marketplace, the constant flies, the cockroaches and bats in her house, labor and delivery in a third-world hospital room, the isolation from family and friends, the river that's her only way out, the loss of herself and her voice in sand and heat and expectation. Kandel writes of plans that shift, of marriage that is tested, of God who seems to hide, of self that goes missing, of suffering and grief, of love and healing.
Some years ago I highlighted an essay of Jill's from the Best Spiritual Writing 2012 anthology and shared a map of Zambia, the African country shaped like a butterfly. That essay was part of the writing that became this book, which was awarded the 2014 Autumn House Press Nonfiction Prize. If you're interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the publication process for this book, Jill has been chronicling it on her blog at http://jillkandel.com/blog/.