Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I should be working on my novel revisions and little books (yes, I'm on deadline) but I just finished one set of them, so decided to share my thoughts on a couple of historical fiction books I've been reading. 

My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson. What a fascinating and troubling bit of history. The story is based upon the author's husband's life when he was a boy growing up in Alaska. Luke, the protagonist and his two younger brothers are sent to a Catholic boarding school to get an education. It chronicles their relationships with each other, with the nuns and priests, and their fellow students. The novel has multiple viewpoints and although at first I didn't like having to switch between the different characters, by a third of the way through, the shifts no longer mattered. Their stories did.

One thing that really struck me is how mean one of the priests was. It made the boys wonder if God was like that too, judgmental and waiting to punish all the times they disobeyed. It reminded me of the time I read Roald Dahl's autobiography Boy. He talks about the terrible punishment inflicted upon the boys at his Catholic boarding school and he lost his faith because of it. I don't understand how any priest or nun could be so cruel in the name of shaping little heathens.

My experience has been the opposite. Priests and nuns were people of refuge. You could run to them at any time because you knew they cared. Yes, I've been spanked for sliding down the banisters or running in the hallways, but it was not a sustained beating. There was always love. They wanted me to be a lady, not a junglee. The nuns I knew fostered my faith. And so I wonder, if a priest behaves in such a way so as to undermine a child's faith (even though it's inadvertent in the name of discipline) I wonder about the judgment of God upon that priest. Because yes, there is judgment after death. We are all accountable, and just as I am accountable for my responsibility towards my children, priests have an even greater responsibility as they shepherd their flock.

Lord, have mercy.

Sometimes that's all you can say, as Ann Fay muses in Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. The author writes about local history. It chronicles the time when Ann Fay's daddy goes off to fight Hitler and she's the man of the house. She puts on overalls and helps Mama with the younger kids, working in the garden, until polio strikes the youngest in their family -- her brother Bobby. Mom goes off to the polio camp with Bobby and Ann Fay is left to do the work of her mama as well -- the washing, cleaning, scrubbing, cooking and burning of toys. Yes, to rid the house of polio germs.

The voice of Ann Fay is that of a sturdy girl, a girl with a heart after her daddy. From the first page, I was hoping and praying for her daddy. Bring him home. Lest you worry, he does, bringing home a piece of something I didn't quite expect. Brought tears to my eyes.

Both books are beautifully written, with distinctive voices, of love and loss and of finding love again. They are stories about survival, stories that I'm so thankful the authors chose to tell. I hope you will pick these up.

Happy reading and writing, all.


Faith Pray said...

Vijaya, I appreciate your reviews of these books. Both sound deep and moving. The part about the priest is sad. For children to understand that God is perfect and adults are imperfect is so important. But even harder to understand if we don't fess up when we're in the wrong. A very difficult thing to do at times. I try to apologize to my kids when I mess up, which is daily. And then I pray that God will show up for them, regardless of my performance as a parent.

Mirka Breen said...

Interesting take on perception and experience. DS just noted today that with so much about 'bad priests' in the media and now in YA books, he sort of suspects most priests are nothing of the sort. Not perfect, but nothing to write about either... and this from a non-Catholic boy who does not have an ax to grind.

Mary Witzl said...

I had a friend in Japan who ran away from home in her teens. She lived rough for almost a year, doing odd jobs and getting into potentially lethal situations, until she met the local Catholic priest. He almost literally saved her life and gave her great support, and I've never known a more fervent, devoted Catholic than she was. A cousin of mine, although Protestant, was also given huge help by a priest who became her life-long friend. Another relative of mine was also taken in by nuns and cared for well.

The stories about priests and other clergymen (and women) abusing the children they're in charge of are heartbreaking. Helping kids grow up right isn't easy, but whenever discipline becomes the main focus, things have gone wrong. It's just good to know there are great priests and nuns out there, doing their jobs with skill -- and love.

Bish Denham said...

Oh these sound like good books. I've always felt that to cause one to lose one's faith is the one unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit.

Vijaya said...

Faith, you make such a good point. Only God is perfect, and kids need to know that we make mistakes. The important thing is to keep on trying to do the right thing.

Mirka, your son is right. I have yet to meet a bad priest, but the amount of publicity that bad priests get is phenomenal.

Mary, to know the nuns and priests I've known is to experience love. These men and women sacrifice their own lives to save others. IN India most of the consecrated religious wear habits so you always know they are a safe haven.

Bish, I do wonder about people who lead others away from faith, whether on purpose (which would be really bad) or by accident (which is forgiveable). These books will stay with me a long time.

Faith E. Hough said...

Wonderful reviews. You are so thoughtful in your consideration of books. I will definitely try to find these.
It's sad, though, that tragedy and cruelty is so much more dramatic than peace and goodness. So many people are only exposed to the "bad stories" about priests and religious, because those are the ones "worth" writing stories about. I am blessed to know many, many wonderful priests, who have helped my family through their actions as well as their preaching.
I guess if there's anything I can do in a story to show these men and women, I'll try to do it!
(On that note, have you read Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool? It has a lovely nun character who I love so much. :)

Vijaya said...

Faith, the book isn't exactly anti-priest, because at times you see their tender moments. They are human and make mistakes. This is what we have to realize. But you are right that priests are often portrayed as mean or wicked -- I think for dramatic tension.

If I ever write a book with a priest or nun in it, they will be the priests and nuns I know of -- good and holy.

And yes, Moon over Manifest was one of my favorites and I do love the kind nun.

Marcia said...

I loved BLUE. Like you, I had trouble with the numerous POV shifts in MNINE. I'm glad your experience with priests and nuns has been SO positive. Sadly, I think there are many more horror stories, esp. from baby boomer years and earlier. Some of the ways children were shamed in the overcrowded schools was truly heartbreaking.

inluvwithwords said...

Thank you for these reviews, Vijaya. I don't read nearly enough non-fiction. I'm adding these to my TBR list.

Vijaya said...

Marcia, some parts of our history are downright shameful. I had seen a documentary of how aboriginals had been treated. Very similar story in how they tried to assimilate them by denying them heritage. Lord, have mercy.

Inluv, both of these are historical fiction, but there is excellent backmatter at the end.