Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter is Past by Ruth Axtell Morren

Against the backdrop of the glittering ballrooms, gritty factories and quiet parlors of Regency England comes a man’s remarkable journey of love and faith.
::Spoiler Alert:: Rated: 5*’s
In the Christian fiction market, novels featuring a character with Jewish heritage are few and far between. And it’s less likely that a novel based in the Regency Era would feature such a character, and that’s one of the reasons "Winter is Past" is unique. The fact that the author is of Sephardic descent must have inspired some of this story. Simon Aguilar is an MP, intelligent, successful and secretly Jewish. He seems to have his life under control, except for what matters most. His daughter Rebecca, the apple of his eye, is dying and there is no hope for her until he meets Althea Breton. She is the younger, illegitimate sister of his friend Tertius from his school days. Despite the fact that she is backwards and shy, Althea does not conform to what society dictates. She is a dissenter and the administrator of the Methodist mission in the poorer part of London. Not only that, she successfully nursed her brother Tertius back to health and is terrific with children. After a very awkward interview, Simon does hire her and under her care, Rebekka begins to bloom. With his permission, Althea also shares her faith with the little girl, giving Rebekka hope in God and that He cares.
Of course both Althea and Simon are attracted to one another and except for one moment of weakness, both maintain a fairly platonic relationship. She admires his sense of justice and his devotion to his daughter, but is disappointed in his lack of faith and that he poses as a Christian to further his career. Simon highly respects Althea to the point where he invites her to meet his family and brings her to his own sister’s wedding, but is put off by her deep religious convictions.
When Simon’s world begins to fall apart, he must face the fact that everything he’s ever believed could be wrong. And that the One (Jesus) he opposed his entire life might be what he’s been looking for all along.
I don’t want to give away the ending to this wonderful book, but I will say that this story fulfills all romantic expectations. It’s not uncommon for authors to write a story about a widowed father who hires a governess/nurse for his child, and have the father and governess fall in love and marry (i.e. Jane Eyre). But in "Winter is Past" the characters’ pasts and backgrounds only enhance the situation. There are a few parts that might be a little too graphic for younger audiences, but unfortunately that is the reality of a fallen world. Another interesting fact is purpose of Simon’s conversion. While many are familiar with the persecution in Europe during the 1930’s and 1940’s, Christian history is somewhat silent about the mistreatment of Jews over the last 2,000 years. While I had read several books about the history of the Jews, until I discovered "Winter is Past" I was pretty clueless of what life was like for Jews in Regency England. In that era, Jews were forbidden to hold professions in authority or to be involved in politics. Often enough they had to hide their heritage and "convert" to Christianity in order to survive. Isaac D’Israeli converted to Christianity and even had his children baptized, including the future prime minister of England, Benjamin Disraeli.
In fact, this book also helped me in my own genealogy/family tree research. For years we believed that our ancestors came from Scotland and that our last name was derived from O’Shea. In the last couple years I read that our last name could be Hebrew and there is more evidence to that fact when I happened upon www.sephardim.com and found a variation of my last name there. If I’m right, then when the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, our ancestors fled to the east. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to figure out the whole story.
So Mrs. Morren, if you’re reading this, thanks for the help.

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