Because this is three books in one, the volume if quite hefty and could be somewhat daunting. However, from the moment I started the first chapter of Emma of Aurora by Jane Kirkpatrick, I found myself looking for moments I could snatch to continue reading.
Emma Wagner Giesy was a member of a Swiss-German communal colony in Bethel, Missouri, in the 1800s. While there was comfort in the community, she also found it stifling in its focus on conformity–and the need to follow Brother Kiel’s leadership without question. That was not Emma’s way.
These books follow her life through about ten years. The first, A Clearing in the Wild, begins when she falls in love with (and marries) one of the assistant leaders of the colony and talks her way into going with a scouting group to find a new location for the colony. In the second book, A Tendering in the Storm, she goes through some difficult times that leave her rearing four children on her own and cause separation between her and the community as well as her family. In the third–A Mending at the Edge–she finds her way back to the colony on her own terms, yet now able to share her giftedness with the community as well as being able to receive.
Emma is a real individual, and much of the story draws on documents found in the Aurora Community archives as well as material shared by Emma’s descendants. While there are some gaps in the factual history, Kirkpatrick does a masterful job of filling them in based on what very well might have happened.
I was a little frustrated when I ended the book, because there were some loose ends that didn’t get neatly wrapped up–but that served as a reminder that life isn’t always nice and tidy.
This is a fascinating look at the joys and tensions of life in a Christian communal community in the 1800s as well as an intriguing look at the challenges of being an independent woman trying to find her own way in that life and time.
I received this book free of charge from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for a fair and honest review.