Verdict: HANDS FULL OF ASHES is a sweet serenade to the beauty of Africa and the persistence and loving strength of the Ugandan and Rwandan people.
A young widow journeys to Uganda to spread her husband’s ashes, and finds herself caught up in personal betrayal and civil unrest.
Olivia Daniels, mourning the premature death of her husband Jack, goes abroad to Uganda in order to fulfill his last wish to have his ashes scattered in a place he’s never been. Working at an orphanage there brings her a sense of peace, fulfillment, and healing, as well as an attraction to the orphanage’s director, handsome Jan Henriksen. But when she goes on an expedition to see gorillas in the wild, a rebel militia group kidnaps her and her friend Danielle. Olivia manages to escape, but finds herself in the middle of a more personal betrayal just as she also finds renewed desire in the arms of her African rescuer Roger Mukunzi. Will she be able to save, or forgive, her friend? Will she be able to love again, and is it Roger or Jan who holds her heart?
HANDS FULL OF ASHES is a rather charming novel with a great deal of affection for its African setting. The people and the land are portrayed lovingly, with rich description and sympathetic warmth. Olivia’s growing love for the orphanage’s children, and her friendship with her co-workers, as well as her willingness to forgive and find renewal in her life, make her a likeable character. Jan and Roger are both worthy romantic interests, with good hearts and kind natures.
A couple of Olivia’s choices seem rather haphazard, made too easily, or by simple chance, rather than deliberate decision-making. Her decision to forgive Danielle, for example, is made rather moot by events, and her choice of lover seems more determined by proximity than deep feeling. She doesn’t even seem to think much about Jan unless she’s in direct contact with him, for example. Her behavior towards Roger contains at least one element that is arguably substantially unethical, and may leave readers with a sour taste in their mouths. The writing can be clumsy in places, too, as for example when Roger directs a taxi “[w]ith a quiet and dignified deliverance of his mother tongue.”
HANDS FULL OF ASHES is a sweet serenade to the beauty of Africa and the persistence and loving strength of the Ugandan and Rwandan people.