Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Wounded Heart - Adina Senft


Nearing the end of her first year of widowhood, Amelia Beiler is still unsure as to whether she should sell her husband’s business.  Despite receiving offers from English and Amish men, she appreciates the independence that running the pallet-making shop brings her, as well as the financial security. But when she’s diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and offered the chance of alternative treatment in Mexico, selling the shop may be the only way to raise funds to cure her from this life-threatening disease. As soon as word gets out that Amelia’s business may be for sale, Amish men from the community are lining up to make bids. Soon the whole church is in upheaval as men are clamouring to convince Amelia that it’s not God’s will for her to sell to the Englisher who is willing to pay more than any of her Amish neighbours, and the Church elders are sceptical over whether they should pay for such unusual medical treatment. Matters are complicated further when one of the bidders begins to take a more personal interest in Amelia, who does not feel that she’s in any position to be entertaining a beau at this point in time. Can she decide what route is the best one to take for her family, as well as her church and business?

The Wounded Heart is Adina’s debut into the Amish genre, although she appears to have written various other novels for the Christian market previously. While I wouldn’t place the first novel in the Amish Quilt series among my favourites in the genre, it was for the most part an interesting and easy novel to read, and I imagine that Adina’s writing will strengthen in time as she gets to grips with the style of this genre. What appealed to me about this novel was that the main conflict wasn’t centred on the romance between Amelia and Eli, but on Amelia’s medical condition and the dilemmas this created. In particular, the fact that community pays for medical treatment as the Amish do not take out health insurance plays a large part in Amelia’s story.

Amelia’s issues ended up being more complicated than I’d expected, mainly because the elders of her church refused to pay for her to travel to Mexico to receive alternative treatment for her MS. Early on in the book, they inform her that they are willing to pay for her to take medication for the rest of her life but that this new treatment in Mexico doesn’t seem like something they should be getting involved in. As the daughter of a nurse, their ignorance and distrust of new methods that could potentially prolong Amelia’s life or even cure her of her disease really riled me, especially as they seemed to make the decision without doing any research and then informed Amelia that their decision was God’s will for her. I’m afraid that the actions of the leaders of the church stopped me from enjoying this book as much as I’d hoped to. While there are many aspects of the Amish faith that I admire and try to apply to my own beliefs, the way that the elders had the final say on Amelia’s medical treatment really annoyed me, more so because they tried to pass off their opinions as God’s will for her. It was presented in such a way that suggested that Amelia had no way of speaking to God herself, and had to go through the ministers or deacons of her church. In fact, Amelia very rarely prayed or conversed with God throughout the book.

In all honesty, I wasn’t a fan of the Amish community in The Wounded Heart. Everyone was continually sticking their noses into each other’s business, advising them on how to live their lives so as to avoid being under the Bann, and gossiping about those whose behaviour does not conform to their expectations. This novel did not give a particularly positive representation of the Amish. While I don’t agree with some of the romanticised views presented in other books, this one actually made me wish Amelia would move to a more open-minded community who would put her medical needs ahead of their preconceived and unfounded views of modern medicine.

Without spoiling the ending, I will say that close to the end of the novel Amelia’s situation changes significantly and she avoids having to make a decision that could potentially place her under a shunning. While I was pleased for her, I couldn’t help but wonder how her life would have turned out if she had made a decision that had caused her to be shunned.  Or would she have sacrificed her needs for the sake of the church and avoiding being ostracised? This book made me think a lot about the different branches of the Amish church and how some of them don’t always display Christian characteristics.

The romantic aspect of this novel is very minor, which made a nice change from the typical plots which are so prevalent in the Amish genre. In fact, there was a lot more focus on the relationship between Amelia and the two women she makes quilts with, Carrie and Emma, than there was on Amelia and Eli’s relationship. The lives of her quilting friends were very intriguing and I’m looking forward to hearing about Emma’s creative writing pursuits in the second novel in the series, The Hidden Life. There’s a teaser at the back of Amelia’s story that has already sucked me in, so I will definitely be reading the rest of this series, despite my distaste for the strict community in which the books are set.

I hesitate to class this novel as Christian fiction due to the way in which Christianity is portrayed through the Amish faith. As interesting and compelling as I found this story, my emotions were in turmoil over the way Amelia’s life was being influenced by the opinions and decisions of her church elders. Sometimes having a book twist my emotions so much can be a rewarding experience, but in the end I found myself a bit disgruntled when reading The Wounded Heart. This novel is worth reading for the touching relationship between Amelia, Emma and Carrie, the quilting details and in showing the heart-wrenching decisions someone has to make when they’re diagnosed with MS. But I wouldn’t recommend this as an introduction to the Amish genre, or as a good representation of the appealing characteristics and values of the Amish way of life.

Review title provided courtesy of FaithWords.

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