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Chasing Safiya

by Ken McGoogan

There are few true heroes to lead us boldly into the next millennium. Perhaps it’s because we’ve realized that in spite of this looming event, we still have to get on with our daily lives. We may be waiting for something big, but what’s really bothering us is how to best raise our children, and which mutual fund to choose. In Chasing Safiya, Calgary author Ken McGoogan gives us a man who could be a hero and a good parent.

Single father and San Francisco journalist Bernard Lanigan is a very unlucky guy when it comes to cars. A few years earlier, after a few drinks, he decided his wife should drive home. But she had poor night vision and crashed the car, killing herself, and leaving Lanigan alone with their daughter and saddled with unbearable guilt. Now his daughter is in a life-threatening coma after another accident. His late wife appears to him in a dream and tells him that something big is going to happen around the eve of the millennium, and by being a part of it, he can save his daughter and achieve forgiveness.

This is classic quest material. The hero sets out on a mission across the ocean. He encounters Safiya Naidoo, a Montreal novelist of East Indian descent (and a winner of the Giller Prize, by the way). Lanigan is smitten, but he has rivals for Safiya’s affection and obstacles to his quest for redemption. He must perform specific tasks. There are forces of evil trying to kill him along the way.

McGoogan offers plenty of thrills, and takes us to many exotic locales, including Sri Lanka, the Taj Mahal, and Dar es Salaam. No simple cruise in the Bahamas for this millennial man. For all its mystical intrigue and adventure, though, the story is hard to believe. Why should a white guy from northern California expect to get an audience with an all-powerful shaman in East Africa? The cover copy touts this book as a “millennial quest novel.” But as Bernard Lanigan dips into and out of different cultures – at the rate of about one country per chapter – it feels more like a millennial conquest.