This historical novel by Dutch author Simone van der Vlugt follows Catrin, a driven and talented young widow who is desperate for a fresh start after the death of her abusive husband. The story begins in 1654, during the Dutch Golden Age; Catrin sets out from her small village in North Holland in search of work and new opportunities—settling first in Amsterdam before moving on to Delft. As she navigates this new chapter, her life is complicated by secrets from her past and romantic possibilities in the present. Ultimately her journey is brightened by her artistic pursuits, which land her a role in the creation and rise of Delft Blue pottery and even allow her to interactwith real-life famous Dutch painters (much to the delight of Rembrandt and Vermeer fans). Continue reading
Eighty-one-year-old Mary Oliver is widely acclaimed for her wise, lyrical poetry that presents life as a spiritual pilgrimage. Her latest book, a collection of essays, celebrates nature and literature as sources of hope, and points to the power of quiet acts such as taking a slow walk in the woods or spending hours with a book. As fans of Oliver’s work already know, however, she sees such acts as far more than movements of serenity or escape. The very title of her new book, Upstream, alludes to resistance—and the purposeful boldness of her vision should not be missed. Continue reading
AMBITION: Essays by Members of The Chrysostom Society
edited by Luci Shaw and Jeanne Murray Walker (Cascade Books, 2016).
Review originally published in Christian Courier in July 2016.
I happened to revisit Doris Lessing’s ambition-themed short story “Through the Tunnel” around the time I read Ambition, so it hovered over my experience of the book. Lessing’s story is the tale of a young British boy named Jerry who trains himself to swim through a dangerously narrow passageway. He sees other boys do it first, and does it to be like them – to prove himself worthy of friendship and respect. His eyes and nose bleed and his lungs nearly burst during his triumphant dive. The scene is thrilling, but also frightening. Should Jerry be admired for his risky, pride-led act, or chastised for it?
Ambition’s personal, often lyrical essays also acknowledge that ambition can be viewed as both a virtue and a vice. Its authors belong to The Chrysostom Society, a community named for Early Church Father John Chrysostom. Continue reading
Jane Austen’s Persuasion is a subtle, small-scale novel compared to her other five classic works. The cast of characters is slimmer and there are fewer humorous moments. The heroine, 27-year-old Anne Elliot, is mostly serious and introspective; she doesn’t even speak a word of dialogue until Chapter 5. Even so, Persuasion captivated me upon my first reading. Every few years, I return to Austen’s insightful rendering of a nuanced love story that begins on a note of regret – a story that expertly reveals the values of 18th century English society.
Anne Eliot may not display the buoyant wit of Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet or even the amusing foolishness of Emma’s heroine, but she is quietly wise and has an intriguing past. Persuasion begins seven years after her great error of judgement: ending her engagement to Captain Frederick Wentworth, a man she deeply loved. She was convinced (persuaded) by her dear family friend, Lady Russell, that his seafarer position and modest financial means made him an unsuitable match. Years later, Anne still sees the social logic of this choice, but she is remorseful. The descriptions of her faded youth and lost bloom are about more than her age – they point to the pained, retreated state of her heart.
British novelist Chris Cleave has proven his ability to write sprawling, thoroughly researched stories about people struggling to build a stable life in an often violent world—his international #1 bestseller about a Nigerian refugee, Little Bee is a prime example. His latest novel, the wartime epic Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, perhaps his most personal book, is rooted in his own family history. As Cleave explains in the preface, the story is partially inspired by the life and letters of his grandfather, a WW II artillery captain.
I read Adam McHugh’s first book, Introverts in the Church, shortly after it was published in 2009. I had known for a long time that I was an introvert, but I hadn’t taken a direct look at the challenges and gifts that come along with this particular aspect who I am. I found the book to be an affirming and balanced look at the role personality types play in our quest to embrace our unique, God-given identities.
Just to expand on that “balanced” description a bit. I am a fascinated fan of the Myers–Briggs Indicator and other such theories of psychological type. But I also believe that personalities are too complex and nuanced to be too swiftly or tidily pinned down. So even as I nodded along (and nearly said aloud “that’s me!”) to the descriptions of introvert preferences and behaviours, I also deeply appreciated Adam McHugh’s attention to the introverted and extroverted elements inside us all. This approach makes his book a relevant, important, and appealing read for people of all types (which is why I find myself recommending it to a wide variety of friends to this day).
Anyway, I kept up with Adam through his blog and social media. A few years ago, he kindly invited me to write a guest post about being an introvert and writer. Now he has a new book out on the art of listening, which I read and loved. You can read my review of The Listening Life below.
(Originally published in Christian Courier, Dec 2015)
For many years, author Jill Kandel barely even talked to close friends about the years she and her husband spent in Zambia on a placement with a Dutch agricultural organization aimed at fighting hunger.
“I moved to Kalabo when I was 26 years old. Nothing but a black-soil prairie girl from North Dakota. A bride of six weeks married to a blue-eyed boy from the Netherlands,” she says in the prologue to her memoir about this time, So Many Africas. “We stayed six years, and then we moved away. . . . I put Africa behind me. I moved on. Or at least I tried to, but I could not dig deep enough to forget.”