Book Talk: The dark doubts in the heart of a Mormon missionary

June 21, 2013

(Mormon missionaries or elders Owens, Valente and Velez (L-R) cross a railroad as they mission in San Fernando, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, February 17, 2009. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci )

They’re a familiar sight around the world, whether in northern Japan or southern Argentina: a pair of men in dark suits, with nameplates, often riding bicycles as they go about their job preaching the Mormon religion.

“Elders”, Ryan McIlvain’s debut novel, illuminates the lives of one such pair, American Elder McLeod and his Brazilian counterpart Elder Passos, through their frustrating daily round of knocking on doors and missionary work, the service that all adult Mormons must perform.

McIlvain, a former Mormon who went to Brazil on his mission, spoke about his book and basing fiction on his own life.

Q: How did this book get going?

A: It’s something I know a lot about just by virtue of the fact that I was a Mormon missionary. More broadly, I thought it would be interesting to pay very close attention to the interior lives of two Mormon missionaries, people that we see almost exclusively from the outside … They’re so lonely, the pressures they face on a daily basis are so tremendous. Because of the nature of their work, they’re seen as annoying at best and predatory at wors
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