Angel of the Danube (2010 Edition)
Alan Rex Mitchell
Greenjacket Books, 2010
Reviewed by Karen Hamilton for the Association for Mormon Letters
This is a rare view into one aspect of Mormon life that I personally have
never had. I have never served a mission, at least not a formal one. I have
always found it fascinating to listen to the stories of returned missionaries.
Some of them, alright most of them, have been hilarious and had me wishing
that I had gone on a mission. However, I have never really understood or
heard about the harder parts of a mission--the rules, the rejection, painful
spiritual growth, the lousy companions, and the list can go on. Mitchell has
superbly combined all the aspects of a mission into one fun novel.
This is the story of Elder Barry Monroe. He is defiantly one of a kind.
Elder Monroe is a combination of hip Californian and responsible missionary,
serving in Austria, and having a hard time balancing the mission rules with
being an overgrown Peter Pan. Elder Monroe, who calls everyone “Dude,” is
wacky and comical and essentially serious as he calls nonplussed Austrians to
repentance. Writing from his own sound faith in the power of the gospel to
change and improve lives, Mitchell has hung a rich and satisfying rite of
passage novel upon an infrastructure of Austrian folklore and the
ups-and-downs of Mormon missionary life.
There are sections when my funny bone would get tickled and I would start
laughing like a silly girl until it hurt. Then there are sections that had me
cringing, recalling what it was like to think and speak and act like a
teenager. Mitchell's done a masterful job depicting the moral clashes that
come from young men, unwilling to surrender their youthful playfulness,
struggling to remain true to the rigid set of rules they have sworn to live
by. The way that young men and women do their best is not always evident to
those who observe them as they serve.
Mitchell has a gift for transporting readers and immersing them in the mood
and scenery of Austria, along with the language and the people. I was taken
back to my childhood, when I visited the area and lived just north of there in
southern Germany. It was fun to see the people of that part of the Vienna,
Austria Mission from a Missionary perspective.
The first 95% of the book is delightful and one that almost everyone, except
maybe the Church Missionary Committee and Mission Presidents, will enjoy. I
would like to point out that the end of the story was a bit of a letdown. It
seemed that the last bit was rushed and thrown together to end the book. The
ending was predictable and in the realm of unbelievable, but for this story
was a nice way to tie up the loose ends.
This is a book that many returned missionaries and non-missionaries will