11 July 2012

Review: Two Crosses by Elizabeth Mussler

It is September 1961, and Gabriella Madison is on a one year Franco-American exchange programme in Castelnau, near Montpelier in France. The programme is headed by Mother Griolet, who Gabrielle herself has met before, as a child of six, even though the nun does not mention the fact. This gives us an early sense of hidden secrets and unsolved mysteries. And Mother Griolet is not the only one with secrets. It appears that the handsome young professor, David Hoffman, has some of his own, and these are about to involve Gabriella.

David invites Gabrielle out socially (obviously student-teacher relationships are not an issue), and she begins to fall for him despite the fact that she is a strong Christian, the daughter of American missionaries in West Africa, and he is a half-Jewish atheist. Ophélie is the six-year-old daughter of Anne-Marie Duchemin, a pied noir, a French woman born and raised in Algeria. Anne-Marie is missing, and Ophélie finds herself in Castelnau, in the orphanage run by Mother Griolet. Like Gabrielle, Ophélie wears a Huguenot cross necklace, but doesn’t understand its’ significance.

The background to Two Crosses is the Algerian war for independence from the French. The early chapters therefore have quite a bit of explanation of the historical context, which some readers might find slow or off-putting. Personally, I have always enjoyed history, and one of my personal bugbears is authors who set novels in a particular time and place but get the facts wrong. So while there was quite a bit of information in the opening chapters, I liked the fact that the author knew the time and the area. The story is very well plotted, and the disparate strands come together as the story progresses.

One of the characters says, “The war is over independence, but still religion divides”. Rick Warren recently tweeted that church splits are less often about differences in doctrine than they are about a clash of egos. It seems that the same could be said of many wars. Are they really about religion, or are they a fatal clash of ego? Two Crosses would seem to confirm Rick Warren’s view.

The writing style reminds me of Michael Phillips, particularly his 'Secrets of the Rose' series. Both cover a similar period of history, both feature American protagonists in living Europe, both have characters with a strong Christian faith and both are written with varying third person points of view. I particularly liked the character of Mother Griolet, the wise old nun who provides Gabrielle and others with practical and spiritual guidance.

Two Crosses is not a light read, nor an easy read. But it is a worthwhile read. While telling a story about the recent past, the stories of the Huguenots’ reflect on the more distant past, and encourage the reader to think of the present and the future. As the old saying goes, those who do not learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them. Well worth reading, particularly for those who enjoy solid historical fiction.

Thanks to David C Cook Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

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