Three Books of Note

Ah, quarantine. That strange gap in time when the world is upended and all social events are canceled. Did you read anything in the past few months? I hope so. Here are three recent friends of mine.

These Strange Ashes
– Elizabeth Elliot

For a realistic look at missionary life, read Elizabeth Elliot’s account of her first year as a jungle missionary in Ecuador. Elizabeth, in the days before she was married to Jim Elliot, traveled to the remote village of San Miguel to work as a linguist among the Colorado Indians – a tribe whose language was as yet unwritten. For nine months, Elizabeth lived with three other women and tried to establish relationships with the elusive Colorados. Her story is an absorbing one, with all the exotic adventures a remote jungle basin has to offer. Cockroaches, vampire bats, banana truck rides, discouragement, loneliness, death – it must have been a busy nine months.

Of all Elizabeth Elliot’s books, this one is the best I’ve read so far. Sometimes I don’t know what to think of her perspective (particularly on how God calls and speaks to Christians) or that crazy relationship with Jim Elliot (I would have handed him the mitten). But These Strange Ashes is an honest look at why God allows devastating personal loss to shatter us even when we’ve tried to be obedient, tried to do His will, tried to please Him. As Elliot writes, “Faith, prayer, and obedience are our requirements. We are not offered in exchange immunity and exemption from the world’s woes. What we are offered has to do with another world altogether.”   

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
– David Grann

I’m always fascinated by chunks of history that I know nothing about. So yes, the fascination never ends. Killers of the Flower Moon is a disturbing nonfiction account of millionaires and murders. During the 1920’s, the Osage Native Americans living in Oklahoma became fabulously rich, thanks to vast oil deposits on their land. In fact, they were the richest people per capita in the world. The United States government reckoned that the Osage people were incompetent to handle that much money at one time and required each full-blooded Osage to have a white “guardian” who would approve expenditures and monitor their fortune.

Then the Osage began to die. The book particularly follows the experience of Mollie Burkhart, a wealthy member of the tribe. Her older sister was shot in the back of the head. Her mother was poisoned. Her younger sister was blown to pieces when her house exploded.    

The Burkharts were not a lone case; dozens of other Osage were dying. Many were shot and poisoned. Well-meaning friends of the Osage who tried to investigate were violently murdered. Eventually, the fledgling Federal Bureau of Investigation was called in for its first major homicide investigation.  

Killers of the Flower Moon is written as a well-researched mystery that reveals murders, conspiracies, and criminals one dark circle at a time. It’s a heart-breaking yet important story of racism and greed.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
– Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows  

Yes, it’s a complex title. Try saying it five times fast. This is a light, breezy novel in epistolary form (that is to say, the whole story is developed in letters written between characters). I liked this book for two reasons – its witty style and its setting on the island of Guernsey, a British crown dependency in the English Channel.

Guernsey, along with the other Channel Islands, was under Nazi occupation during World War II. This novel begins at the end of that period and stars a London authoress, Juliet Ashton, who casually starts exchanging letters with Guernsey residents. Fascinated by their stories of life during the occupation, Juliet ends up traveling to Guernsey to meet her pen pals. They’re a small group of honest islanders who love books, pigs, and each other. Their stories of life during the war and especially their memories of Elizabeth, a young woman who died in a concentration camp, drive Juliet to write a book about the island. She decides to live in Guernsey, of course, and adopts Elizabeth’s orphan daughter and falls in love and things. Certainly, this is a modern perspective on a historical era (one character is mildly accused of being homosexual because he isn’t married, and the past immoral relationship between Elizabeth and a German doctor isn’t even questioned). Also, any reader with an ounce of intuition will see the inevitable end of Juliet’s love triangle (hmm, the unfeeling American millionaire or the tender, quiet pig farmer – which will she choose?). Despite the lack of plot mystery, however, I enjoyed learning snippets of British history. It was a joy to meet fictional Guernsey residents; now I’d like to meet some real ones.

Amanda Wenger is a reader. She reads the classics, the Bible, and the signs of the times. She’s probably read your Facebook page. But don’t read into that.

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