Off the Shelf: Book Review of Paula Huston’s A Land Without Sin (and a giveaway!)

We are taking our evening walk, my two boys and I, when I realize how light I am stepping. It’s more than the feel of fall in the air, more than the clear blue sky.  Something…something has shifted inside of me.

Laura, why do you feel so light? I ask myself.  After all, there’s nothing new going on…I woke up to the same old burdens this morning.
Then I remember: I’m reading a story. And a darn good one, at that. I’m excited to get back to the reading—to get lost in a story is to live in expectation. What will happen next?
Does story do that for you too? Lift you out of the doldrums and carry you to a brighter place? My life and work are so immersed in nonfiction that I have almost forgotten this buoyant joy that accompanies a well-spun tale.
This week it has been A Land Without Sin by Paula Huston, sent to me compliments of Wipf & Stock Publishers literary imprint Slant (where the good stories are).  With this read I have been deep in the jungles of Central America, steeped in the ancient Mayan culture. 
It’s the story of Eva, a thirty-four year old photojournalist with a complicated family history. Eva is fiercely independent and her romantic relationships have often suffered for this. But when her brother, Stefan—the only person who has loved her unconditionally—disappears from his position as a priest in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Eva is determined to find him and bring him to safety. 
Eva’s quest is a dangerous one, as revolution is kindling in the jungles surrounding her brother’s post. As a cover for her safety, she takes a job with Jan—a Dutch Mayanist scholar—who is on his own quest. Soon, Eva finds herself drawn in to Jan’s small family and questioning many things she has held true. 
Huston does an excellent job of bringing to life the desperate feel of a people teetering on the edge of insurgency; giving voice to the many layers of complexity involved in civil strife. And her understanding of Mayan culture is so engaging I found myself wanting to read some of her source material. A Land Without Sin accomplishes that challenging goal of weaving several complicated story lines into one shining thread—a tale of transformation. And the writing is lovely. Take this, for example:

Night in the jungle is like nothing else on earth. The darkness is absolute and has an underwater texture to it, as though you are flutter-kicking through it in a wetsuit, with limited air. The forest sways—a moving kelp bed of trees, insects, nocturnal creatures hunting for food—and the ground swells and sinks, an oceanic illusion of tides and the rising backs of whales. I lay awake in my sleeping bag, listening to the sea-surge of the jungle, and thought about Stefan. 

See what I mean? 
In the end, A Land Without Sin is a story about love and friendship and how they can change a person. I couldn’t stop reading. I think you’ll like it too. I’m giving away a signed copy to one reader who comments by Sunday evening, August 25th. I’ll announce the winner in my Monday Playdates with God post. For extra entries, tweet, FB, or google+ the giveaway and come back to let me know you did so. Happy reading!


  1. kari says

    That she writes in such a captivating way that you want to visit her source material is high praise. I would love to read this book. Thanks for your review.

  2. says

    This sounds like a good winter read when I’m curled up under a blanket wishing for someplace warm and captivating! Thanks for sharing! 😉

  3. Bev Brandon says

    Can I just comment t.h.i.s. ~ you love her writing because it is home to you. You know it well. It flows from your fluttering fingers, your beautiful brawn, your humbled heart. I would love her writing, too. And I love yours. Bev

  4. DeanneMoore says

    Love a good non-fiction recommendation. Love to win but reading it either way. Thanks for letting in a good story..

  5. pastordt says

    Sounds divine!! Is this the same Paula Huston who writes wonderful Catholic devotional stuff? Yes – I just looked her up. She was one of the lecturers in my spiritual direction training!!! I had no idea she wrote fiction – and best-selling fiction, it appears. Also? John Wipf is a long time friend – member of my home congregation in Pasadena. Such cool connections!! (Are you signed with them for this new book, Laura?)

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