Thursday, February 2, 2012

Unsettling Reading

This past weekend I picked up a book with what I thought might be an interesting storyline.  One thing I've noticed in my reading is that there are all sorts of books.  There are books one would call Christian fiction and then there are books that are written by Christians which I would simply call fiction informed by a Christian worldview.  Then there are books written by Christians that are simply fiction--there is no discernable Christian worldview or "inspirational truth" underlying the story.  Christian publishers today publish books that fall into all three of these categories.  The book I read this past weekend would probably fall under the last category.  I expected it to fall in the middle category and because of that expectation, it was quite a disappointing read.

The book I read is titled Beyond Molasses Creek. It is written by Nicole Seitz.    The main character of the story is a 60 year old, overweight white woman who has come home to her father's home near Charleston, South Carolina.  He has recently passed away and she has moved home.  Her friend Vesey, a black man her age, lives across the creek from her.  Where Ally has walked away from God, Vesey has walked faithfully with him through the years.  There is a third main character, Sunila, who lives in India.  She lives in a rock quary, indebted to its owner and a slave to the quarry.

When I first began reading, I was struck by several things.  1) The writer, Ms. Seitz, is a pretty good writer.  Her words do paint a picture, although it's not always a flattering or easy to read one.  I had to puzzle for a few pages to discover whether Ally was white or black (this is an important component of the plot of the story).  2) I was also struck by the fact that most fiction books I read are about people in their 20s, 30s, or 40s.  Only rarely do I read a book about someone in their 60s.  Realizing this made me more interested in the story.

As the story went on, I began to see that the main character in the book is searching.  I, as the reader, hoped she would find peace in God.  Seemingly, she does to a certain degree (please forgive this spoiler), but only from a deist perspective, rather than a Christian perspective.  What this means is that one believes that a God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over everyone.  The main goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself.  God wants people to be good and nice to each other.  God doesn't need to be involved in one's life unless He's needed to solve a problem.  And finally good people go to heaven when they die.  In November, Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio sent out a letter explaining why he feels American deism is a greater threat to Christians than atheism because basically they can believe in God and have some kind of hope but live however they want to--pursuing their own happiness.  These ideas are what I found embodied in this story and it deeply troubled me.  

Let me give you an example.  One piece of the plot is that Ally's dad lied a white lie to her.  She has been hurt by this for many years and held it against him.  But, when she finds herself in the shoes of being a parent, she knowingly chooses to tell a white lie--because it's the best thing for her child.  This white lie she tells is quite a big one actually and because of the nature of it, I cannot imagine it eventually coming to light!  She tells this white lie after coming back to faith in God.  Her way of living embodies what I just wrote about in the previous paragraph--both before and after she believes in God again.  

Aside from the moral and theological struggles I had with this book, I was concerned about the setting of part of the story.  It is set in Nepal.  I gathered from the back of the book that the author has not visited Nepal.  My brother and his wife lived there for several years.  So, I checked some of her information in the story with them.  Yes, there are rock quarries and their could have been indebted laborers there.  Bonded labor is now illegal in Nepal.  Would a Dalit have stolen a white baby?  My brother and his wife both said no.  Even to sell?  No.  But, this is fiction.  The details the author included about Nepal were not enough for me to picture it.  For example, the vehicles they were transported in weren't accurate to how people get around Nepal.  But, a good deal of her information was correct according to my brother and his wife.  

Sometimes there are books that I read that bring more unsettledness to my heart than peace.  This is one of those books.  

It is never easy for me to write a negative review, but I always seek to write honestly about what I think.  I hope I have written this review with gentle, but firm points rather than harsh ones.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Thomas Nelson Publishing.  

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