Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “forgiveness”

A Novel Approach to Amish Fiction

Birth of Mennonite movement

Birth of Mennonite movement (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At one time I had a fascination with the Amish, having both a curiosity and a respect for their way of life.  I read both fiction and non-fiction on them, and even though my interest is not as keen, it’s still there. There has come a certain realization I am not alone with this interest as I am noticing a plethora of Amish fiction titles  appearing  in bookstores, and as choices for my review selections.  Why the sudden interest in the Amish?  Probably, like me, there is a fascination, a curiosity, and it’s hoped, a respect for their gentle way of life.

Most of these Amish titles are of the romance variety and I quickly pass on them; however, I recently came across an author whom I had been searching for, W. Dale Cramer, while trying to locate a previous read title, and found Cramer’s, Levi’s Will. Having been impressed with his previous title, Summer of Light, I grabbed this newly discovered title  and checked it out for my weekend read.

The cover said it had been selected by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the Best Books of 2004, and that intrigued me even more beyond the inside cover which indicated the plot revolved around a son seeking his father’s forgiveness, a shunned son of an Amish farmer.  I decided to revisit my interest in the Amish.

One of the more interesting aspects of this novel is Cramer’s profound inside knowledge of the Amish. The details didn’t smack of Internet researching. The mannerisms, the everyday expectations, even the conversations bespoke of intimate knowledge that comes from living the life.  The acknowledgements indicate the events are loosely based on family events, which of course prompted me to go to Cramer’s site and investigate. It turns out his father was raised Old Order Amish, and his mother was raised as a daughter of a Georgia sharecropper.  There definitely is a story with that family history. The story revolves around Will, who runs away from responsibilities foisted on him that he is not ready to take on.  As the story progresses he attempts to find a compromise between his Amish upbringing and the modern world.  Although he could have fallen on declaring himself a conscientious objector in order to avoid WWII, he philosophically explains his reasoning for joining up with the Army to his younger brother: 

“How is it right to seek out the protection of men with guns and yet refuse to take part in that protection? Is there not a debt?  Is it not hypocrisy?”

The rest of the plot addresses Will’s struggle to live among the “English” as he valiantly struggles to receive the forgiveness of his father.

I found the plot intriguing, well-written, and timeless.  The story of the prodigal son dates back to biblical times, which makes this story all the more relevant: there is an innate need for the love and favor of our parents, particularly the blessing of our father for our chosen life decisions.

The novel opens up with a poem by William Carlos Williams:

What power has love but forgiveness?
In other words
by its intervention
what has been done
can be undone.

What good is it otherwise?

The theme of forgiveness mixed in with the cultural journeying of Will Mullet made this a read that ended too soon.  This was an unusual Amish read, and for those who are looking beyond the “bonneted” Amish love stories, I suggest picking this one up.  It’s also a suggested read for those who are seeking to bridge the gap in a parental or family relationship.

Then again, pick up the book since W. Dale Cramer is a writer who spins a great story.Levi's Will

Spring Came on Forever

Spring Came on Forever by Bess Streeter Aldrich

From the book:

This is the story of two midwestern families and the starnge way in which their paths crossed. It begins in Illinois in the year 1866, and end in Nebraska in the present one [1935], severed from all that went before and all that will continue beyond a thing of incompleteness.

Aldrich blends together a portrait of the harshness of prairie pioneer life and that of an unconventional love story.  Amalia Holmsdorfer, a sweet young girl of seventeen, finds herself attracted to twenty-one year Matthias Meier, the young clerk who sold her stern German father the soap-making kettle.  Matthias also finds himself attracted to Amalia and begins secretly courting her–even though she has been pledged in marriage to a man of her father’s choosing.  Amalia and Matthias plan to run away together, yet their plans meet up with the fury of flooded roads and even though Matthias attempts to meet her in Nebraska before she marries, he again meets up with one of nature’s blockades.  Matthias and Amalia miss each other by mere hours and she marries the wrong man.

So goes the begins a love story that will span three and four generations.  Aldrich, writing in the style prevalent of her time, reveals the story in an omniscient narrator fashion.  It’s as if we are sitting in a cozy living room and listening to a tale of long ago.  While the “tell” style of yesteryear may not got over well with the current “show” method of today, I have to admit I became so involved in the plot that by the last chapter I clutched the book and actually cried.  And I am not a crier when it comes to literature.  Movies, on occasion can induce some sniffling, but rarely can a book get me to sob.

The story is mainly about Amalia; her hopes and dreams of romance are forever changed when she is forced to leave with the rest of her family and the other members of her German community to build a new settlement in Nebraska. Though she appears complacent on the outside, she keeps her inner thoughts and desires to herself.  Aldrich captures this wonderfully:

pp. 9 & 10

But thoughts are acrobats, agile and quite often untrustworthy.  So now, with impish disregard of the command, they hopped about quite easily.  They asked Amalia innocently why the nice young man wanted to know where she lived.  They suggested with subtle art the possibility that he would try to find out.  And then when the gruff person at her side questioned their activities they urged her quickly to answer, “Nein.”

My interest in pioneer started long ago with the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books. There is a fascination in reading about how people created homes and towns out of the rough lands of prairie and wilderness, and through all this tremendous effort they had their own personal stories.   For the last five years I have labored on a novel about a family who follows the Oregon trail to turn off and make their claim in Idaho.  Historical novels require plenty of research to make the time period, setting, and characters come alive.  Aldrich’s Spring Came on Forever reminded me how moving pioneer stories can be.   I am also encouraged to someday write something that induces tears.

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