Friday, March 11, 2016

Book Review: Troubled Mission by John Wagner

Troubled Mission
by John Wagner  Published July 2015 by Kelly House
Summary from Goodreads:
What happens when, after a life-changing study-tour of Peru, a successful US attorney abandons his law practice to volunteer with a religious organization and travel to Peru to fight for human rights in the midst of a culture of violence and terror? Not what he expected. In his sometimes romantic, sometimes terrifying, always inspiring memoir, John Wagner searches for love, spirituality, and the chance to fight against injustice and oppression in a country not his own, while working for a religious organization he could not trust. Wagner lives under a death threat from the fanatical Sendero Luminoso terrorist organization that he must keep secret from his religious community. He develops an on-and-off love affair with Bella, a beautiful but mysterious Peruvian teacher. He faces dramatic betrayals. He accidentally travels into the heart of the drug capital of the world. Day by day, he sees the increasing violence in Peru and overnight, he sees Peru’s president become a dictator, shredding the rule of law. After a terrorist attack in a small town, he confronts Peruvian Army officers head-on to gain access to the scene. Then he must help prepare for burial the bloody, ravaged, body of a campesina woman killed in that attack. In this story, Wagner skillfully interweaves his inner struggles, including coming to grips with a new language, a new culture, a lower station in life, and a new perspective on his native Catholicism. Finally, he stumbles into what would become a landmark human rights case, stopping the Peruvian government from persecuting human rights lawyers. Ultimately, Troubled Mission is the story of human redemption. Many people seek personal change only to find unexpected obstacles. Troubled Mission shows how we can find redemption—or redemption finds us—in so many unexpected ways.

This novel is a memoir written by John Wagner, a successful lawyer who left his career and life behind in the United States to go to Peru. It talks about his life-changing experiences and struggles there that have brought him to where he is today. The novel definitely had a very interesting story to tell. It is definitely not a dry biography or memoir. The way the book is structured also adds to its drawing nature, making it an interesting but not overly clean cut or too easy read. His choice to go to Peru and its aftermath is really a story I recommend to readers who are looking for more in story past a good plot or ending. You really get to see the life-altering experience through his eyes and experience it with him.
The novel is written in a candid manner that doesn't purposefully glorify or hide any of his experiences. The reader really gets to see Peru and the human rights issues surrounding the country in the same manner as Wagner. Being a possible Public Health major at UC Berkeley and only recently talking about International Public Health in one of my classes while reading the book also really helped me connect with the human rights issues presented in the novel. The novel also has a personal side to the issues presented during his time in Peru. His rural placement instead of working in the city of Lima also gave him a chance to put forth attempts to connect with the people and culture of the country. These attempts really shaped the story, sometimes even more than the human rights issues that came up. The story follows his personal growth as he attempts to justify his choices to take the trip and give it and him a real value instead of just being ignored and being in the way of the people. I recommend this novel for anyone looking for a real story about the hardships one faces while trying to find a meaningful place in their work or any other experiences in life. 
Overall, I'm trying to give the reader a feel for what to expect should they choose to read the novel without delving too far into the actual story and issues Wagner is trying to present. Hopefully, my review of the novel has made you want to read the story for yourself and experience the richness of his experiences with me. 

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About the Author
John Wagner was a successful lawyer with a prominent U.S. law firm in the 1990s. A frequent adventure and spiritual traveler, his life changed dramatically during a study tour on the history and culture of Peru, including studying Sendero Luminoso, the violent terrorist group. He gave up everything, and risked his career and his life, to join a mission organization to work for human rights in Peru—in the face of a death threat if he did so. In Peru, he deepened his spirituality, worked on a landmark human rights case and fell in love with Bella, a local teacher. After his work in Peru, he returned to the U.S., resumed his legal career, and married Bella. He holds degrees from Western State Colorado University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Wisconsin Law School. An early Baby Boomer, he has been a civil rights and antiwar activist, a disc jockey (loving rock n roll, jazz, and opera), a world traveler, and a motorcyclist. He is now retired from practicing law and lives with Bella in Sacramento, California, near their children and grandchildren. Find out more at