Angel of the Danube
Alan Rex Mitchell
D. Michael Martindale
Cedar Fort, 2000. Trade paperback:
Suggested retail price: $12.95 (US) 1998 AML Award: Marilyn Brown Novel Award
Quest for Contacts, Indian Underwear, and Magic
197 pages in one day. Need I say more? (I got very little sleep thatday.)
I hate books that have a diary/journal format. It's like reading anendless stream of tiny short stories, and I don't handle short storieswell. It's hard for me to get into a story, so I struggle when I have topop in and out of them every few pages or so, like in an anthology.
Mitchell's Angel of the Danube looked like it was going to be such abook. The first page starts out looking like this:
Kaiser Karl's Ravens
& & & & When you meet a humble servant of God .& .& .
"No," I lamented. "It's in journal format!" But to my great relief, as Ipaged through the first part of the book, I saw that this was the onlyjournal-entry-like date in the book. I didn't know why he decided tostart chapter one that way and not continue with the format, but Ididn't care. I was just glad he didn't.
The story begins calmly enough with a pair of missionaries stationed inAustria, written in first person with Elder Barry Monroe as the narratorcharacter. As foreign missionaries are known to do, Monroe weaves a lotof German words into his speech. But he's also from California andspeaks with a strong surfer dialect. If you don't think that combinationis weird! For example:
Dude had transferred Vidic and me at the same time. Sure, we'd beentogether an Ewigkeit, but it was enjoyable.
Relax. By now you know that "Ewigkeit" means "eternity" -- Mitchelldoesn't leave you high and dry with undefined foreign terms. Oh, and bythe way, "Dude" refers to the mission president -- this time.
We learn quickly that Austria is one hell of a mission to workin -- literally. No contacts, no teaching appointments, no baptisms. Justendless, useless tracting. Discouragement runs high. As the quirky dailyevents of a missionary's life unfold -- with some very strangemissionaries indeed (in other words, par for the course) -- the overridingplot begins to take shape: the quest for the effective contacting methodin Austria.But in the meantime, survival is necessary. During a moment of utterboredom during some utterly fruitless tracting, Monroe decides to pick afight with his companion, whom he lovingly calls Unts:
& & & & Told him that he spoke lousy German and that's why we weren't getting in any doors. He said he thought the real reason was my orange moon boots. I corrected him -- they were blue and white with a little orange.
& & & & He said all that chocolate was making me go color blind.
& & & & "Me? You're a chocolate addict!" I said.
& & & & "No," he said, "You're a chocolate junkie!"
& & & & "You Canadians think you are so smart, eh?" I told him, "Why don't you say the 'o' in 'sorry' or 'progress' correctly."
& & & & "Soooow-ree," Unts stressed the weird pronunciation, and bumped me with his hip.
& & & & "Are not!" I bumped him back. He flicked my tie. I pulled his ear. He stepped on my moon boots. I grabbed his belt. He put me in a headlock. I lifted his leg and we both went tumbling. It was a blast.
And away we go. You start out reading with a raised eyebrow, begin tochuckle louder and louder as scenes like the above unfold, and beforelong you are ROFLMHO ("rolling on the floor laughing my head off," forthe emoticonically challenged). The zaniness of this book sneaks up andgrabs you like Indian underwear.
But it's not just a book of crazy missionary antics. Woven throughout isa tapestry of magical cultural touches that bring Austria to life. Atthe same time you're feel the drabness of doing missionary work there,you feel the charm of the Austrian mindset, a people who seem to definetheir whole existence by centuries of traditional legends and fantasies.Moving like a slow, majestic river behind everything else is a metaphorfor the whole book tied up in one of those legends, the Angel of theDanube, which is immortalized in Vienna with a mermaid statue, picturedon the book cover.
If all this isn't enough for you, there's the love story thrown in, asMonroe grapples with his love for the girl he left back home and thelove he feels for a gorgeous contact he calls Magdalena -- allsubconsciously, because he doesn't even recognize his love forMagdalena. And there's the serious side, such as when the mostunorthodox elder in the mission discovers a new and effective way ofcontacting, involving a bar and a band and some girls he gets a littletoo cozy with.
But the spice of the book, the frosting on the cake, are the bizarreMonty-Pythonesque moments that keep cropping up. Pinball proselytizing.The date with two female contacts to the State Opera. The day theytracted out a for-real Herr Hitler ("Hitler seemed profoundly interestedin the book. But I cringed every time Scotty said his name in thediscussion format. Like, 'Do you remember what question Joseph Smithwanted to ask God, Herr Hitler?' "). The day the clowns (themissionaries of the Vienna district) broke into Captain Scotty'sapartment (the wierdest elder in the mission), photocopied his journal,and read it, because he wrote in it constantly and never showed anyonewhat it said, and they were all dying to find out. The contest for themost bizarre contacting moment. Clear the floor around you before youstart to read, because you'll be rolling on it.
Then I get to the last chapter and find to my horror that thejournal-entry format came back. That nasty Mitchell got me again, likeIndian underwear, throwing that despised format in with a vengeanceright when I'm racing ahead with my reading and don't want to stop. It'stoo late now. I have to read on and enjoy it, because I'm so engrossed Ican't stop. Besides, I need to catch a little sleep before work, andthat ain't going to happen until page 197.
-- D. Michael Martindale firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2001 D. Michael Martindale < email@example.com >