Sunday, October 28, 2012

All Things New: Book Review

It was with great anticipation that I awaited Lynn Austin’s newest labor of love, her book “All Things New”, especially given the theme of the book – the Reconstruction Era.  I have read all of Ms. Austin’s previous works on the subject of American slavery in the 1800’s, along with other fiction and non-fiction books on the same theme, but had never read any works focused exclusively on the Reconstruction Era.  In short, this area followed the Emancipation Declaration of 1863, which declared it against the law to own slaves in the U.S.  

From the first few pages, the author transports us to the White Oak plantation in the deep south, owned by the Weatherly family in 1865.  The civil war had just ended after devastating life and land in the south, and both whites and their former slaves were left to pick up the pieces and try to adjust to a new reality.  Families could no longer own slaves or force them to work, yet they depended on the help as their large plantations could not thrive and survive without the labor they had been accustomed to.  Black slaves were free, but having been born into slavery and living in fear of their former masters, many of whom still held on to old traditions and beliefs, the blacks were not yet free in spirit.  Furthermore, without the resources to own land or rebuild their lives, the former slaves had nowhere to turn but to the people who held them captive by force and fear for generations.

All Things New follows the individual lives of several families following the war.  The main character, twenty-two year old Josephine, has lost her father and brother to the war, and is learning to adapt to the loss and dramatic changes in her life alongside her mother, sister and brother.  Her mother,  Eugenia, tries to deal with the changes by trying to bring back the grandeur of the past, controlling her daughters and the freedmen that stayed behind on the plantation, and clawing through her grief at anything that she believes will bring her happiness and social status back.  Meanwhile, her brother returns from the war dealing with his bitterness by plotting revenge on the Yankees and the former slaves.  Their attitudes and actions seems appalling to Josephine, who has befriended their former slaves and sees things through a new heart.  

Set in an era when women and girls are raised to submit without question to authority and elders and to defer all decisions to their parents or spouses, imagine the turmoil when young Josephine begins to question her family’s position on slavery and begins to follow God’s heart for the least of these?  

What does one do when she questions God in the midst of all that’s been taken from her, through the drastic changes in her life, and yet finds herself following a calling that’s against the grain, creating more challenges and changes than she’s ever known? 

This book not only has an invaluable and thought-provoking view on the realities of slavery and the transition as slaves gain freedom and their masters change their ways, but it also has some of the best answers to timeless questions such as why God sometimes seems not to answer questions, and why the characters who resisted change experienced such trials and challenges.

I appreciated how many unique characters were brought in to the story to give us a complete picture of the way our past, differences and personalities affect how we deal with change, as well as how God uses each one of us to redeem what's been lost.  There is profound wisdom and solid truth in this book, and it's beautifully embedded into a story you won't soon forget.  Although the author mostly focuses on the lives of three strong women -- a mother, a daughter, and a slave -- the author beautifully weaves in the stories of the men that surround these women, and the effect these men have on the lives around them.

Every work of Lynn Austin’s is impeccable in the way it transports us and causes us to really consider the lessons that can be learned from past generations and from the trials of life.  This book, though, takes it to a whole new level.   Whether or not you have an interest in history, slavery or even Christianity, this book is meant to be widely read and distributed.  The stories are as relevant today as they ever were – in terms of slavery, yes, but in terms of bitterness, hardened hearts, following God’s calling, questioning God, seeking revenge, wisdom through change, and loving one another as He loves us.

I couldn’t put it down.  I even found myself taking notes of some of the answers God provided through certain characters of the story, mainly the wise Mr. Chandler!

This book, although new, is already a timeless classic in my heart.  If Heaven has a library, this is surely in it.

Run, don’t walk...  Get.This.Book.TODAY.   

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin communications, Inc.  Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group".