Friday, November 4, 2016

'Waves of Mercy' by Lynn Austin


Austin Returns with a Multi-Generational Historical Novel

Geesje de Jonge crossed the ocean at age seventeen with her parents and a small group of immigrants from the Netherlands to settle in the Michigan wilderness. Fifty years later, in 1897, she's asked to write a memoir of her early experiences as the town celebrates its anniversary. Reluctant at first, she soon uncovers memories and emotions hidden all these years, including the story of her one true love.

At the nearby Hotel Ottawa Resort on the shore of Lake Michigan, twenty-three-year-old Anna Nicholson is trying to ease the pain of a broken engagement to a wealthy Chicago banker. But her time of introspection is disturbed after a violent storm aboard a steamship stirs up memories of a childhood nightmare. As more memories and dreams surface, Anna begins to question who she is and whether she wants to return to her wealthy life in Chicago. When she befriends a young seminary student who is working at the hotel for the summer, she finds herself asking him all the questions that have been troubling her.

Neither Geesje nor Anna, who are different in every possible way, can foresee the life-altering surprises awaiting them before the summer ends.

Genre: Christian historical

I've read enough Lynn Austin novels to know they'll surely be a good quality read. Her cross-cultural stories are always really thoroughly researched, and this is no exception. It's a dual timeline which gradually draws together.

The younger protagonist, Anna, has accompanied her mother to a holiday resort, but she's preoccupied. Not only has her fiance recently jilted her, but she suffers strong nightmares about drowning at sea, and lately she's beginning to wonder how she can understand foreign words she's supposedly never heard before.

The elderly protagonist, Geesje, has been challenged to write her personal history for a book about the district's 50 year anniversary. Her past is full of anger and bitterness which she's not sure she ought to share, but as she begins to get it all down on paper, she decides it may be of some value to others after all, and we find out how she migrated from Holland with her family, and the harsh circumstances involved.

It's clear that the two stories will converge together eventually, but from the start, the go-between is a young seminary student named Derk. Anna knows him as a friendly part-time worker at the hotel she's staying at, and to Geesje, he's the son of some old friends.

It's an interesting read, but not my favourite story by Lynn Austin. I had problems with the way she wrote Geesje's romantic dilemma, and whether she'd end up with handsome, lonely soldier Hendrick or her father's loyal apprentice Maarten. It felt like the character development she gave each young man made it too easy to predict where she was taking the love triangle. Sure enough, Geesje's eventual choice came as no surprise. When character development makes the plot too obvious, then maybe it's a bit heavy-handed. Also, I felt really bad for one of those young fellows, since he was doing all the right things and what happened wasn't really his fault.

I thought it might have been nice if we readers had some tips on how to pronounce Geesje's name. It would have been easy enough to have her tell another character, 'This is how you say it.' As it is, I'm sure the way I imagine it spoken in my head is nothing like it's supposed to be.

As a family saga, it's an emotional roller coaster with plenty of twists and overdue revelations. But those moments of predictability, plus a bit too much sadness and grief in the back stories, makes it a good read, but not one of my very favourites.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for my review copy.

3 stars

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