Friday, October 7, 2005

Margaret's Print Shop: A Novel of the Anabaptist Reformation

Margaret’s Print Shop, by Elwood Yoder, tells the story of the 16th century Anabaptist Reformation in narrative form. Set in 1525 in Strasbourg, Germany (now part of France), the story’s main character is Margaret, who runs a print shop. It is the early days of Gutenberg’s printing press, when various groups learn to get their messages out more easily, through the printed word. Margaret takes many print jobs throughout the book, to print various pamphlets for the Anabaptist reform group; along the way she is influenced by their ideas.

The other main characters include Balthaser Beck, who later marries Margaret, and several key Anabaptist figures from history: Conrad Grebel, Christman Kenlin, George Blaurock, and others. In fact, nearly all the characters named are actual historical figures, except three minor characters noted up front by the author. Margaret’s last name is never given, presumably because her name (before marriage to Beck) is not known.

Unlike many historical novels, the subject matter IS the history itself, with the characters meeting and discussing their theological views on various subjects, and even commenting on the latest news from Luther and Zwingli. The chapter names provide a guideline to the book’s topics, including marriage for preachers and adult believers’ baptism (re-baptism, hence the name given the group, Anabaptists). Other history from the time includes a peasant revolt, and the general persecution the Anabaptists faced, even from the other Reformers.

Margaret’s Print Shop is clearly written for church history enthusiasts, and especially for people belonging to the modern Anabaptist groups (Mennonites and Brethren groups), who would have more familiarity with the names in the story. As a story, this book is more serious and educational, rather than page-turning suspense, action or romance. The characters themselves lack depth and defined characteristics. The ideas themselves, and the history surrounding the ideas, are the main focus, with the characters secondary; their purpose is to explain and clarify the ideas.

Still, Margaret’s Print Shop is an excellent narrative look at the Anabaptist reformation, with a scope appropriate to the book – events in and around Strasbourg in 1525. Yoder has clearly done his research, and includes maps and a list of characters, to help the reader with the story’s context. The author’s notes at the end are helpful too, to learn what happened to Margaret, Beck, and several of the other characters.

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