Praying for Mrs. Mombasa
Reviewed by Amy Lignor for Reader Views (12/2021)
I am a huge fan of Dave Barry. The humor, sarcasm… everything he puts on paper makes me laugh out loud. I also need to give a shout out to the one-and-only Erma Bombeck. Her book, “Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession,” made me laugh before I wore the badge of Mom. That badge is given to those who accomplished baggy eyes, baggy skin, hair loss, and a wagging index finger that has been used so often to tell someone “NO!” that it still wags once children are grown up and, hopefully, out of the house. After I wore the badge, Bombeck’s genius continued to leave me in stitches, but then I could also nod knowingly and sigh when she sighed.
Humor writing can lack great voices, but Doug Brendel, the author of “Praying for Mrs. Mombasa” has an undeniable voice and kindly shares it. His book is told by a fascinating, laugh-out-loud narrator who’s beyond cheeky. Brendel parts the curtains on his tale, and speaks frequently about it in the book, by telling us the difference between how this story plays out as a book and how it would be far worse if it were put on stage in a theatre.
One of the reasons for his belief also ends up being one of the best things he states: “Dialogue is what it’s all about in the theatre. Nobody fully appreciates description. And resenting this as I do, I’m probably not properly cut out to be a playwright. I should probably settle for just writing a novel.” But readers, believe me, this is so much more than “just” anything. One other basic point in the story is why some people still have to base their very ideas, assumptions, and bigotries on familiar stereotypes.
We first meet Shomari Mombasa, whose given name is Forceful. Big, black, and beautiful, he was born in Kenya and became a “star” soccer player. Drop the stereotype because he’s not a “typical” athlete; he’s articulate, a great debater, and highly intelligent. When his father lands a job in the U.S., Shomari rides the train to Stanford on a sports scholarship. And when he lands a job at a multi-million-dollar sports gear company in Chicago, his star shines even brighter… and he lands a most interesting wife.
Enter, Rev. Moishe Escovado who runs the church, Hope Here. If you have a stereotype in your brain for those with Hispanic names, you need to drop this, too. Moishe is a loving husband to a Scandinavian wife named Ingrid, and a devoted father to their daughter. He also has an assistant named Mona who does the PR for the church. And although her “look” is a stereotype for people thinking she fits in with the world’s oldest profession, Mona is one of the funniest, smartest, coolest characters you’d ever want to meet.
A new patron comes to Hope Here who’s a super-fan of God and wants to find a place of worship where she feels like she fits in. Her last name is Mombasa, and she’s having more than a bit of difficulty dealing with her over-passionate husband, who has a stereotype for women.
The reverend puts the lady in his prayers; he also finds himself hypnotized by her power. Not lust or romantic feelings, Moishe says, just some sort of power. Once he puts her in his prayers, however, a fantastic Korean visitor arrives at his church with a story that sends everyone’s life upside-down. Add in a homeless man who seems to “pop up” in the front of buildings these people inhabit, and you have a cast of characters and a plotline that’s funny, action-packed, and written so well that you will not be able to read a couple chapters and then “come back later.” Even the cover using the familiar pointing fingers of Adam and God found in Michelangelo’s famous painting is sheer perfection, seeing as that the Almighty happens to be gripping an iPad.
“Praying for Mrs. Mombasa” a beyond clever story, inside of a play that’s not actually occurring, in front of an audience that doesn’t actually exist. It will blow your mind and assumptions, away. This is my first Brendel book. I am now immediately going to go buy the previous ones because, frankly, I need me mo’ Brendel!