Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Book Write-Up: Eve's Daughters, by Lynn Austin

Lynn Austin.  Eve’s Daughters.  Bethany House, 1999.  See here to buy the book.

The year is 1980.  Suzanne is planning on divorcing her husband, Jeff, because Jeff decided to take a job in Chicago without talking to her.  Suzanne has her own career at a magazine, and she does not want to uproot herself and start over again in another location.  Suzanne gets together with her mother Grace and her eighty-year-old grandmother Emma.

The book covers four generations.  First, there is the story of Louise, who was Emma’s mother.  Her story is set in 1894-1904.  Louise’s husband Friedrich left Germany because he was a Christian pacifist: he opposed Germany’s militarization, and he did not want to fight in World War I.  He came to the United States and became a Protestant pastor.  Louise did not want to leave her friends and family in Germany to come to the United States.  She also struggled to adapt to her husband’s new vocation, as many did not deem her to be a suitable pastor’s wife.  Louise becomes friends with an immigrant named Magda.  Magda is married to Gus Bauer, a man with big dreams.

Second, there is the story of Emma, which is set in 1906-1924.  Not to give away any spoilers, but Emma falls in love with a Catholic named Patrick.  Emma’s father Friedrich opposes their relationship.  To please her father, Emma marries Karl Bauer, the stern son of Gus and Magda.  Emma leaves Karl after Karl tries to force her to have an abortion.

Third, there is Grace, the daughter of Emma.  Grace’s story is set in 1929-1943.  Emma is a single-mother, and people wonder about Grace’s father.  Grace is rather ostracized in the community.  Grace wishes that she had a father likes the other kids, but there are men who are father figures in her life: Booty, O’Brien, Black Jack, and Father O’Duggan.  Emma works at O’Brien’s speakeasy, playing the piano.  As World War II begins, Grace leaves so that she can train to become a nurse.  In the hospital, she meets Stephen, a confident, self-assured doctor.  Stephen is from a wealthy background and Grace is from a background of poverty, but they fall in love with each other and get married.

Fourth, there is Suzanne.  Suzanne’s story is set in 1950-1980.  Suzanne clashes with her parents, Stephen and Grace, because Suzanne is fiercely independent and wants a career.  She loves her mother Grace but looks down on her because Grace seems to be too submissive to her husband.  Suzanne goes to college and meets Jeff, a Christian hippie, who plans to desert to Canada if he is drafted to go to Vietnam.  Suzanne and Jeff fall in love and, surprise, her parents Stephen and Grace think that she can do better!  Grandma Emma, ever a free spirit, likes Jeff!  Suzanne and Jeff marry and endure poverty, yet they are happy because they love each other.  They become increasingly affluent, though, and they hardly see each other.  They become estranged.

There are a lot of juicy details that I left out, but I did not share them because I do not want to give out spoilers.  One scene that I especially liked was when Jeff and Stephen were debating about the Vietnam War, and Grace told her husband about her grandfather Friedrich, who left Germany to avoid fighting in World War I.

When the mysteries in the book got solved, some of the earlier parts of the book made sense in light of the resolution, and some parts did not.  I just had the same feeling that I have when I try to reconcile the original Star Wars movies with the prequels: the fit is a bit awkward, in areas!

At first sight, the book may look like it is saying that Suzanne should toughen up, return to her marriage, and become a submissive wife and mother, with God’s help.  I was afraid that the book would go in that direction when I read Louise’s story!  And that would be rather uncharacteristic of Lynn Austin, since her books have somewhat of a feminist edge, even though she is an evangelical Christian.  It turns out that this book, too, had a feminist edge.

The book was rather empathetic towards Emma and Suzanne when they distanced themselves from the Christian faith.  Emma did not feel like repenting for something for which she was not sorry, and Suzanne did not care for the perfect mother-types rebuking her at church.  Of course, since this is a work of Christian fiction, they find God in the end.  Emma reflected on the negative consequences of her sin.  Still, I am unclear about what she believed she should have done instead.  Stay with Karl?

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