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Captors and captives

November 17th, 2023

Review by Alan Twigg

Having served as an international medical health consultant throughout east Africa and much of Asia, Vancouverite Paul Sunga has crafted a disturbing and brave attempt to unravel and reveal the turmoil and motivations of six characters involved in a ransom kidnapping in the drought-ridden and lawless zone of Africa that maps will tell you is the Kenya-Sudan border.

As much as its title Because Of Nothing At All (Goose Lane $24.95) can be easily forgotten, its content cannot. Anyone who has managed to wade through Paul Theroux’s penetrating and dark travelogue about making an overland journey from Cairo to Capetown about 25 years ago, Dark Star Safari (Houghton Mifflin, 2002)—in which he is very critical of most foreign aid programs and their staff, and mainly suggests East Africa became a helluva lot worse during their tenure—would be well-advised to give this other Paul a fair shake. As his second novel set in Africa, Because Of Nothing At All manages to be equally compelling and sophisticated as both a credible thriller and a geo-political jig-saw puzzle.

Sunga’s ability to sympathetically examine the motivations of the perpetrators of the kidnapping crime is perhaps his outstanding asset. We start from the perspective of a foreign aid worker, such as himself, but gradually our sympathies expand, whether we want them to or not. Whereas there is an arrogance to Theroux—I am brilliant and courageous, so watch as I take risks and shock you—Sunga is far less cocky and unwilling to castigate anyone in particular with easy cynicism. Yup, East Africa is a mess, folks, but no party is entirely to blame for anything—so have mercy on us all.

With degrees in biology and philosophy, including a doctorate in experimental medicine, Sunga teaches medical sciences in Vancouver. He has also served as Director of International Development at Langara College and a consultant to the Canadian International Development Agency for bilateral programs in Bangladesh and Ethiopia. 9781773102467

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