Thursday, September 28, 2006

Mozart's Sister

Mozart’s Sister, by Nancy Moser, is the story of Mozart’s older sister, Nannerl. Told in the first person in the style of an autobiography, it tells of the Mozart family’s life beginning with their international tours as children, up to Mozart’s death at age 35. Throughout, we experience the particular feelings and frustrations of Nannerl, whose talent was overlooked because of her gender. The story is in fact a rather sad one, of a woman always in the shadow of her controlling father and genius brother, denied both the musical career and the normal life of marriage and family.

Mozart’s Sister is an interesting and easy reading, with its combination of biography and a narrative with characters and dialogue. The main characters are developed quite well (father, mother, Nannerl, and “Wolfie”), but other characters come and go and are not as clearly developed. But such should be expected, as the focus on the family members reflects the historical research, in which more is known about the Mozarts than the other people they interacted with.

The author does an excellent job with the historical research, presenting a story as true as possible while filling in the gaps of what is known and not known in the Mozart family history. As the author notes at the end, she took advantage of the great collection of letters from the Mozart family; much of the dialogue comes straight from the actual letters. The setting of late 18th century Europe, and the larger context of events going on in England, France, and Austria, is also well established. Names of nobility are mentioned and introduced throughout--some names well known today, such as Marie Antoinette, due to what would happen to them in later years. Other names, including the political leaders of Austria and even the musical and political leaders of Salzburg, where the family resides when not traveling, are less familiar; these names of nobility and leadership complete the picture of the broader, political landscape of Europe especially during the 1760s through 1780s. Opera is of course a big part of music at the time, and the book gives some attention to these great music events in Italy as well as Vienna, Austria.

As with most “biography” stories, the best parts are early on, the person’s childhood. Later on, the story tends to drag at times, especially as Nannerl tends to be rather morose and moping. Still, the story has great educational value, an entertaining way to learn more about this great classical music composer and his family. As a “Christian” story, though, it is rather on the weak side, since the topic involves somewhat nominal Catholics with glaring character faults. Nannerl has some sense of God and religion, and accepts “God’s will” for her life, but the story overall lacks the specifically evangelical Christian themes that are more easily presented in other fictional settings.

Mozart’s Sister is still an enjoyable read, a great way to learn the untold story of this forgotten woman, Mozart’s older sister, and the particular trials and challenges she endured.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fury: 1825-1826

Fury, part of the “Great Awakenings” series (Bill Bright and Jack Cavanaugh), also serves as a sequel to Storm. In 1825, 16-year-old Daniel Cooper, orphaned son of Eli Cooper and Maggy (Asa Rush’s sister), now lives with his uncle Asa and Aunt Camilla. Daniel witnesses a murder that involves his employer, Cyrus Gregg, and soon finds himself running for his life, with the hired-murderer close behind. Fleeing also from his Uncle Asa, Daniel heads north into upstate New York, where he encounters a Charles Finney revival and is challenged by the Christian witness of other young people he meets.

Fury does a great work of combining historical details of the period with a great action story. It incorporates the canal fervor of the day along with interesting descriptions of ideas for early washing machines, and the frontier spirit of the people at Finney’s revival meetings. (One minor historical error: throughout the text Washington D.C. is called by its present-day name, not "Washington City" as it was then called.) Along the way we read plenty of action, especially great physical stunts of survival, and detailed descriptions of the two characters lost in a cave. Yet Fury seems weaker than its predecessor Storm, perhaps because it takes a long time getting to the good parts. Much of the action takes place in the town before Daniel flees, and the events described on the book cover – even Daniel’s flight from the murderer – don’t occur until well into the story. The story’s Christian aspect, and the introduction of Charles Finney, only occur near the very end. Overall, the story works as an entertaining, action-packed thriller that will keep you turning the pages – at least in certain sections. A few parts tend to lag, and the part where Daniel is alone in a cave seems stretched a bit too long. Otherwise, though, the story and the characters are amusing and entertaining.

The biggest problem with the story is in its treatment of Charles Finney. References to Finney are brief, and the story accurately portrays the revival fervor of the period. However, Fury says nothing about Finney’s actual beliefs and makes the man out to be a great evangelical Protestant Christian, when it is clear from Finney’s own writings that he was far from that. As this article by Phillip R. Johnson points out, Finney rejected basic Christian theology such as original sin, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer and the substitutionary atonement, believing instead that Christ’s death does not justify (save) anyone—in Finney’s view people are saved through God’s benevolence and their own perfection and self-reformation in adhering to God’s laws. Within a few years after Finney’s great revivals, the “burnt-over” region of western New York was spiritually cold, with no lasting fruit from the many “conversions,” as even Finney himself later admitted.

Aside from the theological handling of Finney, Fury is a decent, exciting novel. I only wish the authors would hold true to their evangelical Christian beliefs and write about true Christian historical figures--rather than a false teacher.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Redemption: Pirate Adventure Story

The Redemption, by M. L. Tyndall, begins a new pirate adventure series, “Legacy of the King’s Pirates.” Set in 1665 in the Caribbean, The Redemption follows the story of Lady Charlisse Bristol, who has fled England to search for her only relative, a father she has never known. She soon is shipwrecked and stranded on a deserted island, until a pirate ship, The Redemption, arrives. Captain Edmund Merrick is a “legal pirate” in the service of Great Britain to attack only Spanish ships, though the rest of his crew are hardened pirates. Merrick also has recently become a Christian and daily struggles with his old nature and new life in Christ.

Merrick assists the young Charlisse Bristol in her search to find her father. However, he soon learns that her father is the very wicked and violent “Edward the Terror,” the very pirate Edmund has been searching for—to bring to justice. Edmund also struggles with his own temptations with the beautiful lady while keeping his crew away from her. Throughout the story, Charlisse and Edmund grow in their relationship to each other, as Charlisse learns to trust and accept help from Edmund, while also learning about the true Heavenly Father she needs even more than a human father.

Much of the story takes place in Port Royal, the main port of Jamaica at that time and the special attraction of pirate ships. The Redemption skillfully depicts the wickedness of Port Royal, the “Sodom of the New World” as it was known by the 1660s (), integrating the story of Edmund and his pirate shipmates with the local population of prostitutes and generally disreputable folk. Yet a small church, and its pastor Reverend Thomas Buchan, provide a great contrast and the Christian element for this story. For The Redemption is much more than a pirate and romance story, but a strong story about God’s redeeming love for His own, including these two characters, Edmund and Charlisse.