Author: Jeanne Winer
Publisher: Bella Books
ISBN: 13:978-1-59493-325-7       

I sometimes find prologues at the beginning of a book a downer – authors who use a prologue to foreshadow events in a story spoil what might have been a good read. I do, though, get excited by a prologue which contains quality writing which engenders understanding and empathy for the main character. I was excited by the prologue of Jeanne Winer’s novel, The Furthest City Light.

The story’s narrator, Public Defender, Rachel Stein is doing it tough. Twelve years in the job, Rachel is approaching burnout when she takes on a client whose defense for murdering her husband is: battered wife syndrome. At the time of the story, 1984, this defense was only recognised in a few US states. Emily, the defendant, is a woman who has hidden the beatings she suffered from an abusive husband until, about to be attacked again, she grabs a pair of scissors and ends his life. Rachel believes passionately in Emily’s innocence and works desperately hard to win her an acquittal.

In a same sex relationship with Vicki, a medical doctor, Rachel finds it impossible to switch off from her work role and after Emily’s trial is over Rachel’s tunnel vision causes her life to become a train wreck – struck down by feelings of failure and the imminent breakdown of her relationship with Vicki, she resigns from the public defender’s office.

The Furthest City Light was for me, two books in one. The first section describes Rachel’s relationship with partner Vicki and the pretrial investigation necessary for Emily’s defense, both written with humour and an insight into the private and public life of a state defense attorney. I can think of only one word to describe the writing of the courtroom scenes of Emily’s trial and the word is excellent.

The second section of the book finds Rachel, worn down by the problems of her private and public life unable to focus on anything or anyone. Redemption comes from an unlikely source – friend Maggie has broken her ankle and won’t be able to join a volunteer brigade travelling to Nicaragua to help the democratically elected government fight off the murderous contra gangs funded by the CIA.  A trade embargo placed on Nicaragua by the Reagan Administration, they are in dire need; food and medicine is almost non-existent. Rachel, for the first time in weeks, makes a decision; she will go to Nicaragua in place of Maggie. 

Vicki, upset by Rachel’s decision to join the brigade, warns her this could be the final straw in their just about foundered relationship. Promises of letters and phone calls are made by Rachel and Vicki reluctantly agrees to wait for her return.

Arriving in hot sweaty Managua, Rachel questions whether joining the brigade will be a cure or curse for her depressed mindset. Surrounded by other US volunteers, she discovers that ashamed of their government’s treatment of a country whose only crime is to be tired of US interference, they have come to Nicaragua to help rebuild a clinic destroyed by a contra gang.        

The guys and gals in the brigade are fully rounded characters; as in life, some nice, some nasty and some, who aren’t going to make it. Billeted with local people they all encounter a way of life where survival is a day to day proposition. Visiting Nicaragua during the timeframe of the story, author, Jeanne Winer’s description of people, places and events in a war that should never have happened is heartbreakingly real.

Despite life being exceedingly cheap in the eighties in Nicaragua, Rachel’s narrative is often funny; short of everything except bravery and hope, Nicaraguans are skilled recyclers; tyres retread to the very last shred of rubber, food and clothes shared, English language classes held by unusual teachers in unusual locations. 

Fighting a war against the US isn’t easy – hope, hope for a better future sustains and keeps a tiny flicker of light alive in the hearts of the Nicaraguan people.Through friendships with the other volunteers and Nicaraguans, Rachel comes to realize that truth and justice are not always possible but hope is – acceptance of life’s paradoxical twists and turns while hoping for a just outcome is the first step of Rachel’s healing process. 

I guess the way to judge the success or failure of a first person narrative is whether a reader, after the final credits roll, cares about the narrator and wants to know more about their life. I did and I do.

Congratulations to Ms. Winer – The Furthest City Light is an engrossing great read.  

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