Monday, September 15, 2003

Zion Covenant: Vienna Prelude and Prague Counterpoint

Bodie Thoene's popular Zion book series includes the Zion Covenant series, published after the Zion Chronicles series, with a setting prior to the Chronicles. Beginning with Vienna Prelude, we experience the horrors of Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, not long before World War II. The first two books in the series vividly describe the political and social climate that allowed the Nazis to invade Austria and then Czechoslovakia.
Amidst this background is an interesting story about Elisa Lindheim, a Symphony Violionist who happens to be half-Jewish. Though she and her family are baptized Lutherans, and Elisa bears the Aryan blonde traits from her mother's side, she has no rights in the Nazi belief system. Elisa's friend Leah, concert celloist and full Jew, lacks false identity papers and is at even more risk.

Vienna Prelude vividly describes life in Austria immediately before the Nazi invasion, complete with the details of that takeover and the seemingly shocking apathy of Europe. Prague Counterpoint immediately follows, with the early days of Austrian occupation, streams of refugees fleeing into Czechoslovakia, and Hitler's scheming to conquer that nation (which would fall several months after Prague Counterpoint ends).

Other characters include Elisa's Jewish father Theo Lindheim. Also, Elisa's old boyfriend-turned-Nazi Thomas Von Kleistman, contrasted with a daring young American reporter, John Murphy, provide a background love interest. A rural Austrian family illustrates the tension experienced even within families, the division brought by Hitler, that would set a son against his brother and his parents. Yet perhaps there is hope for Otto Wattenbarger, the Nazi son who appears more prominently in the second book.

Several historical figures from the time have minor roles, especially the then-out-of-favor, banished Winston Churchill. Yet even American celebrities Charles Lindbergh and Clark Gable have guest appearances, for a greater, international view of the times.

These two books provide exciting adventures which make the historical period even more interesting, while providing great details of historical research. Prague Counterpoint also addresses the "old-news" story (having begun in Germany even before 1938) of the persecuted church in Germany, the Nazi efforts to remove Jewishness from the state church, even their plans to sterilize imperfect adults and kill defective children.

Monday, September 1, 2003

I'll Watch the Moon: An Inspiring Story from Ann Tatlock

It is 1948, and Minnesota (and the rest of the country) is in the midst of a polio epidemic. The situation becomes personal for 9-year-old Nova Tierney when her 14-year-old brother Dewey contracts the dreaded disease. Both children enjoy astronomy and watching the night sky – so when Dewey despairs, looking always at a hospital ceiling, Nova promises him that she will "watch the moon" for him.

Ann Tatlock’s inspiring novel, I’ll Watch the Moon tells a woman’s reminiscences of her life growing up in the post-World War II Midwest. Nova and her brother and mother live with Aunt Dortha, who runs a boarding house in St. Paul, MN. Beyond the close friendship of brother and sister, though, lies a deeper story about Nova’s mother; boarder and Holocaust survivor Josef Karski; and a child who longs for a father.

As with earlier Tatlock novels (such as All the Way Home), this fourth novel is told in a casual first-person style. Nova views the story as an adult piecing together all the pieces: her own memories, plus what her mother later told her before dying of cancer. We are easily drawn into the story and care about the characters, while learning some about polio epidemics, a scary thing before the vaccine was developed. As one who cannot remember the time, it was interesting to learn that – before people knew what caused polio – it was associated with summer activities, especially water and swimming areas. The characters also think the polio epidemic will end when the frost comes, as though it were caused by mosquitoes and killed off by the cold weather. The historical background also tells of the origin of the March of Dimes and FDR’s involvement, as a polio victim himself.

For a Christian novel, the religious element is weak (perhaps to reach a non-Christian audience?). I’ll Watch the Moon contains plenty of references to God, with some attention to the term Providence and its meaning -- but little mention of Christ or Jesus. An emotional incident relayed from Josef to Nova’s mother suggests that a Jewish (non-Christian) Rabbi found hope and something greater than himself (in his circumstances, the Holocaust) – and that is a major lesson learned. The story never goes beyond that point, toward any discussion of Christian beliefs or faith.

Still, this novel has an enjoyable story, a time-slice look at ordinary people in middle America, in the not-too-distant past. The characters, mainly adults, grow and learn from their experiences. The plot brings about a rather surprising and abrupt twist near the end, to show that real life, as in the story, does not always play out the way we expect it to.