The setting is Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. The year is 1954. While Missing Hospital presents a tranquil exterior, offering succor to the ill and the indigent, it is rife with drama on the inside. Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a nun from Cochin, India, falls in love with Dr. Thomas Stone, and the inevitable happens. She dies in childbirth leaving behind Marion and Shiva Stone; Dr. Stone, unable to bear the consequences of his actions, exits the scene, leaving the two boys in the care of the nuns.
The author, who grew up in Ethiopia, obviously shares a passion for the country. His narrative of the social and military strife often pervades the story, particularly the poignancy of Eritreaís quest for freedom, It not only informs this tragic tale of two sons desperately seeking to find out who their father is and the aftermath of critical decisions that they choose to make; it also introduces us to a gamut of characters both interesting and intriguing.
There are Dr. Kalpana Hemalatha and Dr. Ghosh, the surrogate parents of the two boys; tortured Genet, the love of Marionís life, who comes back to meet Marion in the U.S. only to cause havoc in the young manís life; and Shiva Stone, Marionís twin brother. The backstories of these characters are sketched with great precision by the author, so that when the payoff comes at the end it draws the reader in. These backstories, while meandering at times, form the espalier of the authorís narration.
Two things, however, keep the reader from fully enjoying the novel, the authorís first following two well-received nonfiction efforts. The first, and the lesser of the two, is the detailed, recondite description of medical procedures that repeatedly break up the narrative. While the authorís purpose may be to add authenticity to the situation, the technical details have a tendency to usurp the tautness of the narrative flow. The second, more egregious shortcoming is that the novelís coda appears contrived and implausible. The denouement, that takes place in the U.S., brings together Dr. Hemalatha, Shiva, Marion, and Dr. Stone. What follows is a tragic course of events that alters the lives of those present, although in a way that is not completely convincing.
The novelís strength lies in introducing the reader to a milieu that is both interesting and different. As the characters handle the eddies of their lives, they realize that their decisions affect not only themselves but also the people they are connected to.