The Immanence of God in the Tropics

The Immanence of God in the Tropics
George Rosen
Leapfrog Press, September 2012
167 pages

George Rosen performs a neat, almost anachronistic trick in his new book of seven stories, The Immanence of God in the Tropics: he plays it straight. When writing about exotic locales, the temptation is to mimic the lush strangeness in prose, but Rosen does the opposite; he writes with such stark, unadorned clarity that distant places snap into focus, no matter the vegetation or the weather.

This spare control allows readers to see these worlds as his characters do: places no different than the ones we all inhabit, the location of everyday lives, with the same niggling problems we all confront. A location and date—“Kenya, 1973”; “Mexico, 2004”—precede each title, before the petty concerns and grave offenses unfurl. In “Our Big Game,” a missionary school lacks a passable soccer field and must travel to a nearby pitch where a wealthier school and its blowhard coach await their comeuppance. “A Good White Hunter,” “Mobley’s Troubles,” and the title story are all set in Africa, where white missionaries find themselves stymied by native societies that are neither as naïve, or as welcoming, as they supposed.

Rosen breaches complicated topics—the role of God, racial tension, cultural dissonance—with the same clarity of description used for the setting.  The resulting stories are often heartbreaking. Rosen will not look away at the moment of revelation—whether it is a missionary’s loss of faith, a teachers’ miscalculation that sends his favorite pupil to prison, or the stupidity of a desperate English thief, hoping for jail rather than returning penniless to his three African wives.

Even closer to home, Rosen’s clear diction cuts through the fog of motivation to reveal the elemental struggles faced by a father whose daughter is mistakenly permitted to go clamming with a mad man, four old men reminiscing in a sauna after their friend’s funeral, and a widower in Mexico hoping to learn Spanish and fall in love too. Exposed, Rosen’s characters finally see the world the way he does: with clarity, and with compassion.

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