“Don’t do it Eddie. Please,” Grandma begged. “Think of your children. Go down there tomorrow and tell the army you changed your mind.”
“I can’t. It’s too late.” He spoke so softly that Esther thought she might have imagined it. For sure Grandma hadn’t heard him. But then he cleared his throat and said in a louder voice, “I already resigned from my job. I leave for basic training in two weeks.”
His words gave Esther the same empty, floating feeling she’d had after Mama died, as if she were a fluff of dandelion, no longer tethered to the earth. What was going to happen to her?
While We’re Far Apart
By Lynn Austin
Bethany House Publishers, ©2010
I’ve had a crush on the 1940s for a long time. The styles, the music, the movies… they all appeal to me in some way. While I realize there’s no perfect “golden age”, the forties seemed, to me at least, to be a time when Americans pulled together. There was a clear sense of good vs. evil, and everyone had a part to play and something to sacrifice for the good of the war effort. It’s no surprise that when I saw a novel set in this era, by favorite author Lynn Austin, I snapped it up!
While We’re Far Apart is the intertwining story of several characters: Esther, a heartbroken little girl who just wants her daddy to come home; Penny, a young woman who offers to watch motherless Esther while her father’s away; and Mr. Mendel, their Jewish landlord, who questions God’s goodness as he worries about his son trapped in war-torn Hungary and grieves the death of his wife.
I love Lynn Austin… I was swept away by the first couple Chronicles of the Kings books she wrote, and I can still “see” some of the imagery from the Refiner’s Fire series, even though I haven’t read them in years. (Re-read soon? Maybe!) Here, I think her plot writing and characterization (with one exception I’ll go into later) shine brightest.
This novel was tied together so well! There were tempting little mysteries leading the way through the story like Hansel and Gretel’s morsels… I kept asking myself questions as hints were dropped. Some revelations I deduced ahead of time, while others completely surprised (and pleased) me. Who started the fire that burned down the nearby Synagogue? Why do Penny’s parents keep saying she’s not like other girls? Who exactly was Esther’s mother?
The characters wrestle with spiritual questions as well. Why do good people die? Why doesn’t God stop evil in this world? What good do prayers even do when God seems so silent? Austin handles these topics deftly, letting the answers come organically and weaving in the story of the Biblical book of Esther, where God is seen working behind the scenes to bring great good out of hardship.
I think only two things really disappointed me about this book. First, I disliked the little girl. Lonely Penny, Mr. Mendel the Jewish landlord, the little boy named Peter, even the eccentric grandma who hoards everything—all these characters left a memorable mark. But the most I ever felt for young Esther was pity. She’s almost constantly self-absorbed and whiny… granted, she did recently lose her mother and feels abandoned by her father, but she needed more redemptive qualities to balance out the book, to make her fit in a time period when I think young people would have matured faster than they do today.
The second thing I took issue with is the lack of Christ in this book. As Jewish Mr. Mendel forms a grandfatherly attachment to the two children living upstairs from him, he begins to return to his faith in God and the Scriptures after the tragic death of his wife. But read this excerpt from near the end of the book:
“Listen to me, both of you,” Mr. Mendel said. “We all make mistakes, every one of us. But we Jews believe—and I think you Christians do, too—that if we confess our sins to Hashem, if we repent of our wrongdoings and promise to turn away from them and go in a new direction, then He will forgive us. We should make restitution for what we have done whenever possible. And sometimes there are natural consequences from our actions that must be faced. But the Scriptures say that as high as the heavens are above the earth, so far has Hashem removed our sins from us. We can be forgiven. And then we can begin to live new lives from that day forward.”
Esther knew he was right. She had just listened to the Easter message in church earlier this month. Her sins were forgiven because of Jesus’ death.
The irony is that Mr. Mendel doesn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah, or believe that Christ’s death and resurrection is the fulfillment of the faith of the Psalmist he quoted, so his faith is… empty. As it says in 1 John 2:23, “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” Mr. Mendel may have returned to prayer and observing the Jewish customs, but his lack of saving faith in the Chief Cornerstone is never addressed.
I chose to give this a hearty 3/5 stars… and sign out with a hearty thank you!