I so badly wanted to give this novel five stars. As someone who's heavily into political issues (worked on a Congressional campaign, ten year+ issue activist, etc.) and a sucker for a good romance I was hoping that this book would be both realistic and passionate. Frankly, while the story certainly is interesting, it's really not that realistic.
The author apparently felt like he needed to create a dichotomy to have conflict between his two characters. So Sarah is the ultra radical and Fielding is the more pragmatic politician type. The problem is, neither character is given realistic scenarios to play out these roles.
What ultimately happens to Sarah is, historically, more in line with what happened to radicals in the sixties who set off bombs - not someone who is the target of a bomb. Sarah might have been rescuing Chilean exiles and breaking US law, but that hardly puts her at the top of the FBI's most wanted list. Certainly not in comparison to folks like the Weather Underground which existed at the time.
I also wasn't comfortable with the author's presentation of what drove Sarah to do what she did. There's a lot of religious talk that just either made me uncomfortable or just didn't ring true. Having spent quite a bit of time with passionate activists, many of whom do break the law, I just didn't believe that someone would go around saying that any poor downtrodden person could be Jesus. I suspect that the author did this because maybe he just wasn't sure as to what would drive someone to behave like Sarah.
Then there's Fielding the politician. Since the book is set in the 70s maybe the author should be given some latitude. Maybe things were different then. But I doubt it. In this day and age of money and politics his vision of running for office seems naive at best. Today it takes no less than a million dollars to win a House seat. Sometimes it takes a lot more. With that money comes obligations to special interests.
Much is made at the end of the book when Fielding reads letters from some of his constituents who need help. It almost appears as if the author is trying to compare Fielding with Sarah, as if he is just as much a hero, if not more so, as Sarah.
Having lobbied over 50 members of the House and Senate in DC I found this underlying motivation to be naive. Constituent letters are read by staff members and those staff members do the vast majority of the work in doing the helping. A member of Congress wouldn't have time for these letters. The letters a Congressperson would deal with would be those that would further his or her political ambitions. In other words, those that would make good press and PR.
In a realistic story Sarah would have continued her work. And yes, she possibly would have been killed. But this would have likely only happened after she was better known publicly for her actions - and a far greater threat to those she was protesting. Maybe then the novel would have focused more on the possible harm Sarah's actions might cause to Fielding's career.
In a more realistic story Fielding, if he is as honorable as the author wants us to believe, would have lost his election. Why? Because in order for Fielding to stay true to his idealism he would have had to stand up to the special interests who would demand his support. That's the political reality we live in. You don't get into Congress by being a good boy. You do it by bending yourself to the powers that be.
Then there's the background story behind Sarah's death. The US did indeed participate and support the military coup that destroyed the Allende government in Chile. This was an atrocious act and, unfortunately, not the only one committed by the US government in the region. In "Operation Condor," for example, six South American nations had organized assassination programs to kill political dissidents. The US government knew about these killings and there's even some evidence to suggest that we supported them.
I mention these points because there's a central truth behind Sarah's actions. What the US did was morally reprehensible. So while Sarah's actions are extreme, one has to ask, when confronted by the facts, why is Sarah is so "radical" for her beliefs? Why aren't those who ignore these things seen as lazy Americans who have utterly failed in their civic responsibility in questioning the actions of their government? Ah, but then there would be no book. Who wants to read something like that?
For those interested in finding out more about this background story I recommend the movie "Missing" with Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon or the book "Missing: The Execution of Charles Horman" by Thomas Hauser. Both are far more realistic in their depiction of the US government's actions toward Chile in the 1970s.