Monday, February 22, 2016

Book Write-Up: An Amish Year, by Beth Wiseman

Beth Wiseman.  An Amish Year: Four Amish Novellas.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

An Amish Year contains four novellas about the Amish.  The stories get better as the book proceeds.
Allow me to comment on each novella.

A.  The first story is “Rooted in Love.”  Saul is an eligible bachelor and has pursued Rosemary for years.  Rosemary is attracted to Saul, but she does not want to marry him because she believes that he is infertile.  This story was all right.  Not great, but all right.  I liked that Saul was carrying a torch for Rosemary.

B.  The second story is “A Love for Irma Rose.”  This was a better story than the previous one.  This story is set in the 1950s.  Jonas has been smitten with Irma Rose ever since he first saw her sitting under an oak tree reading a book.  Jonas comes across as confident in that he keeps telling Irma Rose that they will be married.  Deep down, though, he is not sure if she even likes him.  Irma Rose is uncomfortable with Jonas’ presumption, and she is pursuing a romance with Jake.  Jake is a pillar of the community, but Irma Rose finds him a bit boring.

Jonas ends up in jail after drinking alcohol with the English.  Irma Rose is taking care of Jonas’ mother and brings Jonas pies in jail.  Jonas’ cellmate is a cocky, cynical Englishman (meaning a non-Amish person) named Theodore, whose father is rich.  Theodore may actually know Irma Rose.  If so, how?

The resolution was rather lackluster, in my opinion.  Still, I enjoyed the story.  One reason is that it is sweet.  I found it particularly moving that Beth Wiseman introduced this story by quoting from a scene in one of her books, in which an elderly Jonas visits Irma Rose’s gravesite.  Theodore’s honesty added realism to the story.

Also, a discussion between Theodore and Jonas about whether people are inherently bad made me curious about the Amish belief regarding original sin.  It puzzled me that Theodore was saying that humans are inherently untrustworthy, whereas Jonas, speaking as a Christian, was asserting the contrary.  You would think that a Christian would agree that humans are inherently corrupt!  I read on page 100 of John E. Toew’s The Story of Original Sin (2013), however, that the Anabaptists reject the doctrine of original sin and do not believe that the sin of Adam and Eve made humans naturally corrupt.  The Amish are an Anabaptist sect.

One area of critique: At the end of the book, Wiseman shares recipes of food that was in her stories.  But there was no recipe in that section about shoofly pies, which Irma Rose brought to Jonas in jail, and which the guards liked to eat!

C.  The third story was even better than the previous one.  It is entitled “Patchwork Perfect.”

Eli Byler is a widower.  He has a daughter named Grace and a son named Ben.  Eli is admired by two women: Elizabeth, who is recovering from the death of her husband, and an attractive widow named Ruth, who has had her share of admirers.  Eli is intrigued, however, by Miriam, who turned him down when he asked her to dinner.  Miriam is unusual.  She is in her thirties and has not yet married.  She does not cook or clean.  She plays softball.  Rumor has it that she has a lot of cats.

Miriam is a mentor to the girls in the area, in that she looks out for them.  She is concerned about Eli’s daughter Grace because Grace has been hanging out with Wayne.  Wayne is pressuring Grace to go further in the relationship than Grace would like to go, and Wayne has a reputation as a heartbreaker.

I liked this story because I appreciate romances in which one of the people is an odd duck and this actually enhances the relationship, maybe because I am an odd duck myself.  I also liked that there was good even in Wayne, who comforted Ben about the death of Ben’s mother.

D.  The fourth story was even better than the previous one!  It is entitled “When Christmas Comes Again.”

Katherine is mourning the death of her husband Elias.  A mysterious Englishman (again, that means a non-Amish person) has photos of her late husband.  This Englishman is Elias’ father, who left the family years earlier.  He says that his name is Paul, then he says that it is James, but he goes by James.  James is an eccentric old man.  He does not always seem to be all there.  He talks about being in the witness protection program, being a federal agent, and having connections with the White House.  He says that a red car keeps following him.

James has coffee regularly with Katherine.  And, unbeknownst to Katherine, James also gets to know Katherine’s daughter Mary Carol and her boyfriend Abe.  James gives the family advice that helps them to move on after Elias’ death.

The story is intriguing.  I was anticipating the scene in which Katherine would learn that Mary Carol already knew James.  There is also the question of why James left his family years earlier.  And why does he seem so odd?  How much of his story is true, and is any of it delusional on his part?

This novella should also teach a lesson about good manners, especially to those who love Amish books.  In one scene, a lady who reads Amish books in a bookclub asks Katherine if Amish women shave their legs.  Katherine does not appreciate this inappropriate question!

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Booklook Bloggers, in exchange for an honest review.

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