Bestselling author Beverly Lewis continues to till the rich Lancaster County soil in her latest book, THE BETRAYAL. Set in the fictional Amish community of Gobbler's Knob circa 1947, this is the second installment in the "Abram's Daughters" series and continues the story of the Amish Ebersol sisters --- Sadie, Leah, and twins Mary Ruth and Hannah. The stories of these courting-age girls are woven together, but Leah's narrative takes center stage through the course of this installment.
As the story opens, Sadie and Leah are both dealing with the continued fallout of Sadie's irresponsible behavior during "rumschpringe," a period of time in which young Amish people are given the freedom to explore the outside world to determine whether or not they want to be baptized and commit their lives to the "Plain" way of life. Sadie's downward spiral is chronicled in THE COVENANT, and it's clear her descent is not complete, as anger and sadness eat away at her in THE BETRAYAL.
"After their private talk Sadie had gone inside and created a fuss, all because Mamma had suggested Sadie take herself upstairs and lie down. 'You look so hot in the face,' Mamma had said sweetly, offering a concerned smile, no doubt noticing Sadie's swollen eyes.
'I'm all right, really,' Sadie replied.
'Just thought a rest might do you good.'
Then Sadie burst out crying. 'I'll go out to the pasture if you say to --- coax all the cows home for milking --- do Leah's chores, but I won't be resting!'
Both Hannah and Mamma gasped, though Mamma the louder. 'Such foolish words, Sadie dear. Time you behaved like a baptized church member … and bite your tongue.'
Sadie brushed her tears away, standing there silent now.
'You best go to your room,' Mamma insisted. 'Tis not becomin' of you to disobey.'
Suddenly Sadie brushed past Mamma and Leah, breaking into an all-out run. Out the back door and down the steps she went, toward the barnyard."
As Sadie seems to be pulling away from the only life that she's known, Leah decides to get baptized and marry her devoted childhood sweetheart, Jonas Mast. A rift between the sisters develops despite their love for one another, and the whole family is thrown into tumult. Secrets both large and small abound in the Ebersol household, and Leah and Jonas's union ends up in jeopardy. In the end it's unclear which betrayal THE BETRAYAL refers to --- Leah of Sadie or Sadie of Leah.
Lewis grew up in Lancaster County, and her body of work shows an obvious affection for the Amish way of life. Her stories are often set among the Plain people, and her descriptions of their everyday lives are idyllic. THE BETRAYAL is no different, and fans of Lewis are likely to embrace her newest novel despite its somewhat abrupt and unsatisfying ending. It's nothing the forthcoming third installment in the series can't fix.
Uninitiated and more critical readers of the book may chaff against an overabundance of colloquial language (redd, Dat, ach, wonderful-gut, jah), the idealized presentation of the Plain life, and thinly drawn characters. Much of the dialogue and inner thought of the characters seem highly contrived, like soliloquies of earnest actors in a drama about an Amish life they only know about through movies.
Nevertheless, it's clear that the author does truly care about her characters and this can atone for a number of literary sins. The community of Gobbler's Knob is a vividly drawn world the likes of which most readers will never be able to inhabit apart from Lewis's affectionate prose. The agriculture-based economy and simple lives of the Amish provide a welcome vision of fulfilling lives apart from our fast-paced culture.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on September 1, 2003