Plot Summary of Elma Shaw’s Redemption Road

At the beginning of Redemption Road, we encounter the character of Bendu Lewis. She is in her late twenties.

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Plot Summary of Redemption Road
Plot Summary of Redemption Road
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Redemption Road: The Quest for Peace and Justice in Liberia (2008) tells the redemptive story of Bendu and other victims of the Liberian civil war as they navigate the murky waters of a traumatic past they shared with their country, in pursuit of closure, justice, and peace. We see these characters confront their troubling past in order to heal from the scars the war has left them with. The novel focuses on Bendu in particular as she navigates her way towards redemption. The story is set during the Charles Taylor’s government in Liberia when Liberians are still recovering from the scars of the civil war.

At the beginning of Redemption Road, we encounter the character of Bendu Lewis. She is in her late twenties. Her family is commemorating the ten years remembrance of their matriarch, Granny May, who died at Charlue Town during the war. Bendu was the only one with her when she died. She gives the reader a graphic description of the circumstances surrounding her grandmother’s tragic death. She, however, can’t tell her family how her grandmother died, partly because of the blame she has apportioned herself and because this would mean she has to relate her wartime experiences at Duluma camp: the atrocities she committed and several others committed against her.

Close to a decade after these horrible experiences, Bendu is still scarred by this traumatic past. She now runs an NGO, Peace in Practice, where she helps victims of the war in their rehabilitation process. But she still can’t get over her past which she finds hard to disclose to anyone, not even to her family and friends.

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This will, however, change with a chance encounter and a subsequent one with Commander Cobra (now Moses Varney) who was the villain of her Duluma experiences. Memories of her experiences in Duluma start to resurface in form of nightmares. She tells her family and friends about her meeting with Moses Varney. She makes effort to bring Varney to justice for his war crimes and a lot of murders he orchestrated during the war. She follows the path of justice and accountability as she approaches the police, against the advice of Agnes, her friend and co-director of Peace in Practice. She will soon realise the futility of going to the police as she is technically unable to pin any crime on Varney.

When Moses Varney is informed that Bendu is instituting a lawsuit against him, he plans and executes her kidnap. He takes her blindfolded to a lagoon where he assaults and threatens her severally. He threatens to reveal her dark secrets from the war to her family and friends, who till then are oblivious to the roles she played during the war. When he sees that Bendu is not ready to stand down on her case against him, he threatens to kill her but Bendu manages to escape before he could carry out the threat.

Redemption Road
Redemption Road by Elma Shaw

She finds her way to Calvin’s house, from which she is taken to a hospital to be treated of the injuries she sustained from Varney’s assault. It is at the hospital that she reveals to her family and friends the things she did and endured during the war. She does this so that Varney wouldn’t have any leverage on her, especially concerning the secrecy of her past. As part of her expose, she tells them she had a daughter while at Duluma camp whom she had abandoned barely months after she was born.

Her family and friends are shocked by this revelation. They, however, choose to stand by her. Siatta takes her in into her house where she would be, recovering from her injuries, until she read about the death of Commander Cobra. Her mother, Eva Lewis, flies in from the United States of America to help bolster her confidence, self-worth, and help ease her healing process. Eva also comes around with an aura of optimism and faith that Bendu’s long-abandoned daughter will be found. She helps Bendu transition into a mother even when her daughter hasn’t been found. Calvin and Agnes become more supportive than ever.

This expose, in fact, is Bendu’s first step to the road of redemption. She would also set out to search for her daughter, whom she eventually reunites with through the International Committee of the Red Cross at the end of the novel. She also enquires about how her brother, Benji, had died during the 1980 coup d’état and realises that her brother, even at that tender age, had sacrificed his life so they (Bendu, Siatta, and Calvin) can live. She makes her redemption journey even more meaningful by finally deciding to write a symbolic letter to all the people that hurt her during the war to ease the pain away.

Other characters find their closure from their war experiences through different ways. Calvin finds his when he travels to Sierra Leone to cover the Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal for World Journal in Freetown. He returns to Liberia to set up a scholarship scheme for Liberian children. He becomes less indifferent to the plight of native Liberians in and after the war.

Tenneh achieves her redemption, first by writing a letter to her mother who had pushed her out to be raped by soldiers and had refused to accept her after she managed to escape from the soldiers. She then reveals her status of being infected with HIV and follows this revelation with an embrace of her condition. Peace in Practice organizes HIV-awareness programmes and helps her ease into that phase of her life. She also becomes a full-time Peer Counselor where she derives the same positive energy, she instils in others to keep herself going.

Siatta also comes to terms with the realities of a post-war Liberia after she witnesses, firsthand, the fighting that took place at Gardnersville. She also divorces her unfaithful and conniving husband Terrance, whose infidelity she had previously chosen to turn a blind eye to. Her mother, Ewa Lewis, also reveals the agony of losing her son, Benji, to the 1980 coup. She readjusts when she learns that her daughters have misunderstood her devotion to her dead son as her preference of him over them. But she clears the air by informing them that she would have done the same if it were any of them.

At the end of Redemption Road, Elma Shaw manages to resolve the conflicts her characters are enmeshed in.

Further Reading:

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