Beverly Lewis. The Parting. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2007. See here to purchase the book.
I recently read and reviewed Beverly Lewis’ latest Amish fiction novel, entitled The Wish. The last few pages of the book had advertisements for other Beverly Lewis books. I noticed an ad for a series that Beverly Lewis wrote, entitled “The Courtship of Nellie Fisher.” I learned that the books of this series were set in the 1960’s and discussed controversies that beset the Amish community at that time. That intrigued me, so I requested the book from the library.
Nellie Fisher’s sister, Suzy, drowned recently, and the rumors are flying. Suzy was in her period of rumspringa when she died. According to people’s understanding, she had not been baptized and joined the church prior to her death, so people are wondering about her eternal soul. And she liked to associate with the English (the non-Amish).
Meanwhile, there are controversies within the Amish community. More and more Amish people want to use modern technological conveniences, such as tractors, to assist them in their farming, especially in light of the drought. But there are also Amish who are embracing a more evangelical message, one that gives them assurance that they will go to heaven when they believe in Jesus. This differed from mainstream Amish thought, which held that people cannot be certain of that. People are forming independent Bible study groups, and the Amish authorities are discouraging that, for the simple reason that many who participate in such groups leave the Amish community. The threat of shunning looms over those who are involved in these groups, and Nellie’s father Reuben is questioning whether shunning itself is a good idea.
Nellie’s father Reuben and her mother Betsy are becoming involved in this new movement. Nellie is concerned about this, for she believes that her parents should follow the Amish straight-and-narrow. As Nellie reads Suzy’s journal, she learns of the extent to which Suzy associated with the English—-Suzy even had an English boyfriend—-and Nellie thinks that her parents, likewise, are alienating themselves from the community. In addition, a romance is developing between Nellie and Caleb, who is closely related to the local bishop.
There are other characters and plot-lines. Rosanna cannot have children of her own, so another woman, Kate, will bear children for her. There is also Rhoda, who is one of Nellie’s sisters. Rhoda is somewhat lazy and fails to attract suitors, yet she is somewhat of a reader: she reads Pilgrim’s Progress, for example.
The book attempted to portray life in a 1960’s Amish community. Whereas the Beverly Lewis novels that are set in contemporary times present Amish people using at least some modern technological conveniences, such as telephones, telephones are anathema in the 1960’s. That actually has an impact, since people can lose contact with each other without a telephone. Also noteworthy is that the church services were in German, which many in the congregation could not understand. That reminds me of Latin masses, or orthodox Jewish synagogues.
The book was boring for a while, but I became more comfortable with it halfway through. I cannot really tell you what the attraction was between Caleb and Nellie: there were many woman who wanted to be Caleb’s suitor, but Caleb liked Nellie, and I do not know why.
The book also alleviates concerns about Suzy going to hell by presenting her accepting Christ before her death, and praying for her parents that they might accept Christ. That works out a little too well, from an evangelical perspective. I recently watched a Christian movie, Dear J, in which an evangelist was witnessing to his agnostic girlfriend, and she died in an accident. We learn that she accepted Christ before her death, so she would go to heaven with her boyfriend rather than going to hell. Do things really turn out that neatly?
I am interested in reading the next two books in this series, and I will check them out of the library in the future. I have review books to read first, though!