The book takes place in the poorest country in South America. In fact, in considering the Western Hemisphere, it ranks next to last, with only Haiti being poorer, yet it is a country rich in national resources.
The book covers one of the most tenuous times in Bolivian history. While it is the story of a missionary family, the book provides unusual insight to the rapid change occurring at so many levels in the country.
The book points to the 1952 revolution as the starting point of a vastly significant process of social and political transformation that has bought Bolivia to its present status. Bolivia has a history of political change occurring not at the ballot box but most frequently by a military coup. The ’52 revolution was like the jump start to a battery which, in this case, triggered the political awakening of the majority of indigenous communities long held in a semifeudal condition.
The book draws out the many external influences which played a role in defining the outcome of the transition. Bolivia’s natural resources were a tempting prize from the early colonial period when gold and silver were the attractions for Spain. During World War II, the metals tin, zinc, and tungsten were important to the United States. More recently, for the time period covered by the book, it was the petroleum and forest products. The external influences were more than economic. The book covered the range from former Nazis to Cuban communists.
The thread running through the book is about the life of a missionary family. It is the story of a young couple with three children who left the comfort and security of the US Midwest farming communities to serve Christ as missionaries to Bolivia.
However, the book does much more. It reveals how these Americans adjust into what is a semi-hostile environment struggling to cast off its colonial past where 80 percent of the population was kept from participating in society by literacy voting laws.
The book draws on sources as diverse as academic studies done as degree work by former missionaries, to declassed information from the State Department files. Events, both local and global, had their impact. Such political currents as those represented by Nazi Klaus Barbie and communist Che Guevara occurred in Bolivia. On the world scene, it ranged from Peron in Argentina to the assassination of President Kennedy in the U.S.
While the book is about a missionary family, it so contextualizes them into the social, economic, and political situation in Bolivia, one comes away with a deeper appreciation for and understanding of those who dedicate their lives to the well-being of the world’s poorest and most marginalized.