My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
A full review of Carla Kelly’s Safe Passage would be kinda difficult to do for me, not because it’s a badly written book (I finished it in 2 days, a record for me TBH!) but because the historical facts integrated in this story. It’s very difficult to comment on war or revolution or whatever and the loss of the absurd amount of human lives in the process, to justify the horrifying affects it has on humanity. I’ll do neither in my review.
Carla Kelly has done amazing books where she included tales of war and its aftermath. But she’s always careful to be as subtle as possible while incorporating it with the storyline. Safe Passage is no different, yet there were moments where I felt like putting down the book and take a deep breath. This has a little different setting and background—Mexican Revolution of 1910 (setting here is 1912). The prologue introduces our h, Addie, who has been reminiscing about her past, and her marriage, which seems to be a done thing at this point. Addie lives in Mexico and was married to Ammon for 2 yrs. One sad incident, which led Addie to say some horrible things, had led to their break up. Ammon returned home from his freighting business where injured himself, only to find his wife enraged. He already had a broken leg to deal with, a broken heart now added to the mix. Addie, though, had a reason behind it, and I could try to understand her mental state, still the whole incident was really heartbreaking. Ammon left, heartbroken and in tears, not knowing what he’d done wrong. He had tried to communicate with Addie the first year but she was determined to keep her silence. I have no idea why she treated him so badly, but in the year since then she’d come to regret her action. So much so that she often thinks of Ammon but she doesn’t know how she can do anything to change their circumstances.
In the meantime, the Revolution has already begun, and people, especially Mormon colonists are told to leave ASAP or die. But it seems like Addie was left behind to look after her elderly, dying grandmother. I don’t know what to think of her parents but it didn’t seem like they cared much for her since she wasn’t the goodlooking daughter who could socially advance them in any way. That was Addie’s eldest sister Evangeline. Plus Addie’s marriage to someone as lowly as Ammon didn’t really do anything to advance their social status either. Ammon’s family is hardworking but they’re still farmers. Addie and Ammon knew each-other as children and their affection grew into young love soon enough. He father was amenable to the match also because Addie was mostly ignored in the family. But nothing mattered and they were very happy for the 2 yrs. they were together. What, then, triggered this horrible outburst that created a gap that seems too wide to ever mend?
Addie had a miscarriage and she couldn’t handle the aftermaths. She hated that Ammon wasn’t with her at that time. You can call her reckless, foolish, immature...even this Addie, after 2 years since the incident, doesn’t know how she could be so horrible to Ammon. Only now that she regrets it all, she doesn’t know if she’ll ever have a chance to think of a future with Ammon again.
When Addie’s family left Mexico, Ammon’s family leaves too. Ammon joins them some weeks later, yet he still got to experience a bit of the despair among the people, the death and the destruction around. But he was with the others who were also crossing the border so it didn’t seem that ominous. The day he reaches USA and reunites with his family, Ammon finds things were about to change for him. Addie’s frantic father (well, I thought the guy was frantic, even if he’s an a$$) comes and asks Ammon to go in search of Addie who hasn’t returned with the throng of people milling in from Mexico. Ammon wanted to ignore it knowing his marriage is already over, the only thing it now needed was a divorce paper. However, he couldn’t ignore the pinch of concern and the urge to go find her and bring her to safety. Ammon strikes a deal with Addie’s father to financially help his own family, now ruined since they had to leave everything, their farms, house, livestock, behind. Then he journeys towards Mexico again, this time all alone. This journey would prove to be a journey of a lifetime, as Ammon and Addie’s lives will change after witnessing the sickening effects of the Revolution on the common people. People they’ve called friends and family over the years.
I can’t really do justice to Ms. Kelly’s description, the terrible things Ammon had to witness and experience, until he finally reached Addie, who was waiting with the dead body of her grandmother, unable to go out and bury her because she was scared silly and had no one to help her. There was not a single soul out there she could trust and ask for help. Even in all that I’ve read, the death and destruction that left me speechless, two particular incidents struck me really hard. One was, before reaching Addie’s grandmother’s home, at one point, Ammon had to hide away in a stable full of rotting corpse knowing no one would venture near that area so he was safe for the time. It was enemy territory and he was duly afraid. I don’t know how he managed to fall asleep there, but riddled with hunger and exhaustion, seeing and experienced all he had...I can only imagine. No, actually I can’t and I hope I never have to. I don’t know how he kept sane after that but Ammon did push on and was able to reach Addie. The next one was how they had to hide away in Addie’s grandma’s house for 2 straight days in the scorching hot weather, with Grandma Sada’s body still in her bed. Lord I don’t even know how they did it but they managed. When it was apparent that the body can’t be kept in the house any longer is when they ventured out to finally bury her. They lived in a small attic area adjacent to the room knowing even if any soldier came in, they’d run away. Ammon was more attuned to the Mexican way of life than Addie, whose father was too snobbish to bother, so he knew Mexicans were superstitious that way. Despite all that it was gruesome, it did help Ammon and Addie. One group of men did come in, saw the dead body, and made sure with a sign posted in front of the house that every other group avoided that home. I’d find it quite funny, had I not been too overwhelmed by what I was reading. I’d like to note something here: though there were NO graphic descriptions of any kind, there was enough to make up the rest with your own imagination. So if you feel triggered by such imagery, I won’t recommend this book to you.
TBH, Safe Passage was a slow read, most especially because I thought it wasn’t really a Romance in that sense. There were just too much going on that’s decidedly NOT romantic. And despite that it wasn’t full-on Romance, this book was also a journey of self-discovery; a second chance Romance for a couple who’d thought they’d lost each-other already. But it was there, hidden away, because neither Addie nor Ammon was able to move on. So if you’re going in thinking it’s a fast-paced, usual historical Romance then you’d be sorely disappointed (as I read in some low rating reviews). But regardless of what anyone thought, I admired Ms. Kelly’s attempt to stick as close to the fact as possible. I did start this book thinking it’s a historical romance, but no matter what, I was hooked to the story and couldn’t put it down all credits to the author.
Safe Passage solely revolves around Ammon’s journey to save Addie. They finally decide to stay in Mexico and built a home and family there despite the fact that most of their family members settled in the USA. The epilogue gives you a short timeline of at least 7yrs after that, so you know what happened to them afterwards. Needless to say, the journey was anything but safe. There were times I didn’t know if they’d ever reach to safety cause danger was lurking at every corner with so many Rebel groups and their leaders doing whatever they liked, killing and pillaging unconscionably. But Safe Passage was also a sweet story of reconciliation between a couple who were torn apart by a tragedy of their own and a huge misunderstanding that followed. It’s worth a read only for that.
This is a LDS novel too, as Ammon and Addie were followers. I have no clear idea about Mormon ideology or about their Holy texts but in here, Ms. Kelly made amazing references from a story of The Book of Mormon and blended it with the context of Safe Passage so well, it didn’t read preachy or anything. It was just Ammon, trying to follow the path of his namesake whom he calls Ammon the Old (from the story), to gather courage to push on through. I’d say it was definitely needed after all that he’d had to experience. :( 4 stars.