Review of City of Brick and Shadow

The novel by Tim Wirkus, City of Brick and Shadow, is a riveting tale of two missionaries in a sweeping Brazilian slum looking for a missing congregant they had recently baptized. All the characters are well-realized, from the unhappy local Mormons to the woman at the lanchonete to the mysterious Argentine, a kind of Satan figure who rules over Vila Barbosa. Further, the level of description is quite vivid, helping the reader feel like an unwilling visitor to the slum all along the way. In some respects, the mystery is pretty banal—a petty con artist is probably killed—but Wirkus raises several philosophical issues as well, all without making the story too heavy. Ultimately, the book raises a very Mormon question—what is the purpose of life, and what are we willing to pay to fulfill that purpose.

The two main characters, the missionaries, form a pair almost like Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, the main character being a slightly dull Watson dragged along by his energetic and condescending senior companion. And yet it’s much sadder than any story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The climax is surprising and shocking, but the conclusion, not to give too much away, left me feeling quite unsettled and more than a little depressed. But that’s what good literature does, it makes one think and question and leave thinking things he or she hadn’t thought much about before, even if those thoughts aren’t always sunny. This is the kind of accomplishment Mormon literature should strive for. We don’t need to be told everything is wonderful for those who follow the Lord. We need to see life, and ourselves, as the imperfect creations we are, so that we can answer those difficult questions posed so clearly by this extremely well-written story.

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