The novel is mainly about Liberia, or it's mainly about Hannah Musgrave's reflections on life, or it's mainly about US intervention or lack of intervention in other countries' affairs. In other words, it's a lot like a John Sayles film or perhaps a Ken Loach film if you think of their styles in bringing larger geopolitical issues to life while telling the story of one character's personal journey (think Loach's Land and Freedom or Sayles's Men With Guns). Or perhaps their films are much like a Russell Banks novel, because Banks is very adept at using personal stories to highlight systemic social ills.
Hannah Musgrave is a marginal figure in the Weather Underground, but she doesn't really talk about that part of her life -- we gain only glimpses into the movement itself and she chooses to tell only about her time underground in New England, and briefly at that -- however, at various times she alludes to her student activist experience as fundamental to her development and relationship to others, notably her husband and children. The bulk of the novel is really about her time in Liberia during the revolutions and civil war of the late 1970's through early 1990's. Former President and now indicted war criminal Charles Taylor figures prominently in the novel, and a few other real life figures appear, but it's really Hannah's story as she works through her contradictions and compromises as a former revolutionary married to a member of the corrupt Liberian political elite, as a white woman who becomes very self-conscious of her position as a white woman -- and an American -- in Liberian society.
The novel ends on a few disquieting notes, one in the form of a loose end that never gets tracked down and the other in the form of a closing sentence that forces a reconsideration of the entire narrative, somewhat similar to Quentin Compson's response to Shreve's question at the very end of Absalom, Absalom!:
"Tell about the South," said Shreve McCannon. "What do they do there? How do they live there? Why do they?…Tell me one more thing. Why do you hate the South?""I dont hate it," Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; "I dont hate it," he said. "I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it!"It should be understood that when I say disquieting, I do not mean it as a bad thing. The open-ended nature of the narrative's close is a very powerful thing, because it forces the reader to do more thinking than he or she may do if the answers were given in a neat package. It forces us back into the story to try to understand Hannah's character better, and in doing so we perform that act that's in such short supply in these days of 138 tv channel total flow: reflection.
Quite honestly, I couldn't stop reading this novel and I finished it in four days, which is rather quick for me these days.