11 April 2012

Review: The Quakers of New Garden (Novella Collection)

The Quakers of New Gardencovers four generations of Quaker women from New Garden, Indiana, and provided interesting insight into their beliefs, as each novella shows how the Society of Friends react to the situations of the day. I don’t know much about the Quakers beyond their pacifism and opposition to slavery, and these stories brought out both these beliefs well, and gave me a better understanding of the beliefs of this group.

In New Garden’s Hope by Jennifer Hudson Taylor, Josiah Wall and Ruth Payne are engaged, but Josiah upsets Ruth by postponing the wedding - again. Ruth breaks their engagement, believing that if Josiah isn't prepared to marry her when he promised that he doesn't love her enough. Josiah has to decide where his priorities lie – with Ruth, or with his own interests (specifically, campaigning on behalf of the Federalist candidate in the 1808 US Presidential Election).

At one point, on of the characters says of the election “if the campaigns were not over and the votes cast. In a few months, we’ll know the results”. This delay between the end of polling and the final result being known was an interesting point I had never thought of, as in modern politics we almost always know the result the day the polls close, or a day after at the latest.

The second story, New Garden’s crossroads by Ann E. Schrock, follows Deborah, daughter of Josiah Wall, who is a furniture maker and abolitionist in Indiana. Nathaniel Fox is a slave hunter, a long way from his own Quaker roots. An accident brings them together, and they develop feelings for each other but Nathaniel must recommit to the Society of Friends before they could marry as Deborah will not leave the faith. I liked Nathaniel, because his apparent worldliness underpinned a pragmatic realism that I felt the Quakers perhaps lacked:

Plain or lofty speech, plain dress or not, makes no difference to me.” He took another deep breath. “I’ve been out in the world and am not convinced that a man can be completely non-violent.”

In New Garden’s Inspiration by Claire Sanders, takes place during the War Between the States (the US Civil War), as the Quakers must decide if they will remain true to their non violent beliefs, or if they will fight to end slavery. Leah Wall marries widower Caleb Whitaker in order to care for his two children while he is away serving in the Union army in the war. This was a marriage of convenience story with a difference, in that Leah thought it was going to be a real marriage, so works to make it one.

The final story was my favourite, New Garden's Crossroads by Susette Williams. Set in the present day, it introduces Catherine Wall, a nurse who starts volunteering at a local youth centre after she meets the director, Jaidon Taylor, at a gang shooting. However, Jaidon is not a Quaker, so to marry him would mean leaving her church. I felt that this story gave a solid gospel message and showed the power of God to change lives.

I enjoyed The Quakers of New Garden, and I would be interested in reading more about the origins and practices of the Quakers (officially known as the Society of Friends), perhaps examining some of the companies they founded.

Thanks to Barbour Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

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