Jane Kirkpatrick's award-winning writing makes A TENDERING IN THE STORM, the second installment in the Change and Cherish historical series, a pleasure to savor.
As the story continues from book one, A CLEARING IN THE WILD, readers find the feisty Emma Wagner Giesy living in the mid-1800s in the Washington Territory with her husband, Christian Giesy, and little ones Andy and Kate. The young couple has made some breaks with the German American religious colony they came with out West, but not enough distancing for Emma's taste. Wilhelm Keil, the leader of the Missouri Bethelites colony, has settled the majority of the group in a different location in Oregon, which he's dubbed "Aurora Mills" after his daughter. The story is told through the eyes of both Emma and Louisa in first-person, alternating chapters.
Kirkpatrick deftly shows the conflict for Christians of that time period between a desire for security and absolute certainty in how to live a Christian life and the need for independence, and embracing the messiness and mystery of faith. Wilhelm, the powerful leader of the colony and last word on all religious matters, is a more sympathetic figure here than he was in book one, but still shows the positive and negative effects of what happens when power and religious authority are invested in one person. Emma is his antithesis --- rebellious, independent and longing to do things her own way. In her character, we see the problems of Christians who disassociate themselves from community and try to do everything themselves. In Louisa's, we see the pitfalls of insecurity and giving up our independence.
Both ways of living are flawed yet also somewhat attractive. Through them, Kirkpatrick shows how giving up thinking for ourselves and letting someone else do it for us can lull us into a false sense of security, and alternatively, how refusing to let our Christian community keep us accountable for decisions we make and offer perspective and help can lead to other sorts of disasters. The secret, it seems, is somewhere between what Emma desires and what the community desires, which is the tension that holds much of the series together.
Characterizing the novel is an excellent sense of the place and time period in which these two women lived. Kirkpatrick weaves in mentions of local plants Emma might have foraged for, such as wild celery, wild raspberry roots and wapato (Indian potatoes) and includes interesting sketches of different plant uses. Historical details abound, culled from Kirkpatrick's research into the true-life story of Emma on which the story is based. Family letters, photographs, artifacts and help from her modern-day descendants give Kirkpatrick's work a ring of authenticity but, at the same time, doesn't get in the way of good fiction or interrupt the flow of the narrative. A difficult balance --- and one that Kirkpatrick admirably achieves.
Plenty of disasters are on the way for Emma, and readers will wince at some of the choices she makes. Many will applaud, however, Emma's strong belief that being a woman does not make her less than a man (as the patriarchy of her colony implies) and that it is important to question the theology that the colony has been relentlessly spoon-fed by Wilhelm. Readers will enjoy seeing Emma's gifts unfold and watching her grow as a woman of faith and as a mother who cares deeply for her children. Historical fans won't want to miss this series.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on April 17, 2007