The Risk of Returning: A Novel

by Shirley and Rudy Nelson
Troy, NY: The Troy Book Makers, 2013
Paperback, 364 Pages, $18.00

Reviewed by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

The Risk of Returning: A NovelRudy and Shirley Nelson, gifted writers and Christian feminists who have been married for more than 60 years, have coauthored  a fascinating novel about a son of a missionary who dares to return to Guatemala in 1987.  He thus enters a zone of great secrecy and danger.  Governmental military forces are killing hundreds of their own citizens in an attempt to liquidate guerilla warfare and all popular resistance to the government.  In their final note, the Nelsons explain that the American CIA had supported Guatemala’s terrorizing of its own citizens, and that in 1999 President Bill Clinton had admitted publicly  that Washington had been wrong to assist the counterinsurgency campaign.

But this is a novel, and the Nelsons skilfully draw their readers into caring about Ted Peterson as the “communist missionary’s” kid who takes the risk of returning because he needs to know why his father had felt guilty at the time of his death.  One rarely encounters a suspense novel in which the protagonist reminisces about insights from C. S. Lewis and the Bible and gets intimately involved with the mysterious woman who is helping him relearn his Spanish, but it’s all here.

The Nelsons capture the dreadful secrecies of a nation warring against itself and a citizenship where friends wonder constantly whether they can trust one another.  The suspense sweeps the reader along until gratification comes on the final page.  To quote one of the book’s more unusual phrases, this is one “whoopdefuckindo” of a novel!  I loved every minute of it.

© 2013 by Christian Feminism Today

Virginia Ramey Mollenkott
Virginia Ramey Mollenkott (1932-2020) is the author or co-author of 13 books, including several on women and religion. She is a winner of the Lambda Literary Award (in 2002) and has published numerous essays on literary topics in various scholarly journals. In 1975, she spoke at the first national gathering of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus in Washington, D.C., and delivered plenary speeches at almost every gathering of the organization over the next 40 years. She has lectured widely on lesbian, gay, and bisexual rights and has also been active in the transgender cause. Mollenkott was married to Judith Suzannah Tilton until her death in 2018, and has one son and three granddaughters. She earned her B.A. from Bob Jones University, her M.A. from Temple University, and her Ph.D. from New York University. She received a Lifetime Achievement award from SAGE, Senior Action in a Gay Environment, a direct-service and advocacy group for seniors in New York City in 1999. In 2017 she was awarded the inaugural Mother Eagle Award. Even in her late 80s, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott continued to use her doctorate in English to share insights with folks who visit the EEWC and Mollenkott websites, and with elderly people in the Cedar Creek Community educational programs. She deeply regretted that her severe arthritis forbade her presence at the social justice protests during the Trump presidency.


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