16 May 2012

Review: Arms of Love by Kelly Long

On her deathbed, Mary Yoder extracts a promise from young Adam Wyse that he will give up the love of her daughter, Lena, until he is free from his father’s harsh rule. Adam makes the promise, but reluctantly because of his love for Lena, and decides that he will go and fight in the Revolutionary War, despite the pacifist stance of his Amish faith.

Arms of Love is different to most Amish novels, in that it is set in 1777, near Lancaster in William Penn’s Wood (which we know from modern Amish novels becomes Lancaster County, Pennsylvania). This historical setting provided for some external conflict, both literally and figuratively, as many Amish apparently did abandon their pacifist beliefs to fight for the Revolutionary cause in the War of Independence.

The historical setting meant that the novel focused more on the internal conflicts in the relationships between the families, and when the Amish were distinguished from their neighbours by their dress rather than their old-fashioned way of living. After all, in 1777, everyone baked their own bread and electricity hadn’t been discovered.

Most Amish novels use a combination of English and German to convey the fact that most Amish speak German at home, even today (although the Yoder family obviously didn’t speak German at home, because there was no reference to the language issue when Ruth, the English wet nurse arrived).

But I found that Arms of Love took the use of German too far, to the point that it detracted from the story. Using 'gut' for 'good' was manageable, but some of the German words used were not so common or easily translatable (e.g. Derr Herr for God or fesh washa for the ceremony of foot washing). There was a glossary at the beginning of the book but it is irritating enough to continually have to skip back and forward between the glossary and the story in a physical book. It is almost impossible on an e-reader.

The passing of time was another issue. It seems to be only a matter of days or possibly weeks between the death of Mary Yoder and her husband's remarriage. He had barely had time to mourn the loss of his wife, yet we were expected to believe that he had fallen in love with another woman.

As a result, I found Arms of Love hard to get into, and didn’t really ‘get’ the story, so didn’t enjoy it at all. I found the first half quite disjointed - several characters, especially the men, seem to suffer from having multiple personalities - cruel one minute and kind the next, with no explanation. Sometimes this technique is used to introduce hidden secrets; here I found it to be confusing and distracting rather than mysterious and exciting.

As well as the usual discussion questions at the end of the book, Arms of Love also includes a four week Bible study, with a deeper focus on some of the themes of the story. I just suspect the author focused too much on creating a story that people could learn from, and not enough on creating a story people would enjoy reading.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

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