Tag Archives: Christianity

Five Wives by Joan Thomas

Joan Thomas’s GG-award winning fourth novel, Five Wives, based on actual events, is mainly set in the 1950s in Ecuador. In 1956, a group of American missionaries set their sights on a group of indigenous people living in the Ecuadorian rainforest with the intention of converting them to Christianity. To this point, the Waorani’s exposure to the outside world was virtually nil. Little was known about them or their way of life other than their itinerant practices and their tendency to defend themselves ferociously against outside encroachment. The Waorani were known locally as the “Auca,” a derogatory term meaning “savage,” and the missionaries adopted this term, calling their action “Operation Auca.”

Thomas’s novel begins in the lead-up to the operation, providing background on the participants—all of them very young—showing how they came together, explaining how the plan was hatched and describing the complex mechanisms that finally set it into motion. Thomas’s intricate, detailed narrative is related from many different perspectives, primarily the men leading the excursion and their wives. The common thread running through all of these narratives is the evangelical fervour with which these people approach their mission, their unwavering faith in what they see as God’s plan, and their unquestioning willingness to accept the hardships, dangers and tragic outcomes as part of that plan. Thomas portrays the male leaders of the operation as true believers, driven to serve God in any way they can, willing to risk life and limb—willing, as it turns out, to make the ultimate sacrifice—in order to spread the Word to people they believe will be condemned to eternal damnation without their intervention.

Five Wives is a timely, courageous, dramatically urgent story, written on a grand scale.”

The triumph of this novel is the author’s ability to convincingly and without judgment present a mode of thinking that will be alien, possibly abhorrent, to many readers: the belief that everything that happens, without exception, can be interpreted as a sign: a direct communication from God that the believer will use in his or her ongoing search for direction and purpose. It will come as no surprise that Thomas does not endorse or condemn any particular way of thinking. Her characters are sincere and obviously trust that they have been instructed by God to save the Waorani people from sinfulness. But from our modern perspective the ignorance, arrogance and hubris inherent in the evangelical Christian’s approach is also obvious as it is based on the assumption that a way of life that evolved over hundreds of generations and thousands of years—that likely existed before Christ’s time—is inferior—morally, materially, and culturally—to the Christian way of life.

In Five Wives Joan Thomas lays out all the information and allows her reader to reach his/her own conclusions. The only portion of the story that seriously questions the purity of the evangelical’s motivation comes in several chapters set in a contemporary time closer to our own. Abby, a young woman whose grandmothers both participated in Operation Auca, and whose father grew up in Ecuador and is a preacher, has strayed from the path of righteousness and is no longer convinced that God is a ubiquitous presence in her life. Abby is a curious and independent thinker, educated and modern in her attitudes, who suspects that tearing down an entire peoples’ culture and replacing it with something foreign to them is neither just nor honourable. The cynical among us will also find him/herself wondering about the role of the oil companies, who in the years following World War II came to covet the Waorani’s territory and in the end, got what they wanted.

Five Wives is a timely, courageous, dramatically urgent story, written on a grand scale, swarming with fascinating characters, covering large swaths of history that will be unfamiliar to most of us, and seamlessly incorporating the author’s extensive research into a coherent and absorbing narrative. It is richly deserving of the praise and accolades that came its way.

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This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Gravitational Fields by Harry Rajchgot

Subtitled “A Novel of Peacetime & War”, Gravitational Fields (2016) by Harry Rajchgot is an epic (450 pages) story that covers the events of the Jewish people from pre-WWII through the struggle to establish the Israeli State to living in Canada. In particular, it is the story of Duvid Grynstzyn (later David Gryn) and how he escaped the small Polish village that was exterminated of Jews by the German army, losing all of his family in a moment of time.

Gravitational Fields is an epic tale of family, survival, and especially, love.

Duvid then sets out on a trek to get to Krakow, where Miriam, the love of his life is staying with relatives. In order to survive, he must disguise the fact that he is a Jew. He is without family, friends or anyone he can trust. Soon, he ends up fighting along with the Polish resistance where he finds Miriam who turns out to be a fierce fighter herself. Their reunion is short-lived, for Duvid believes she was captured and shot by the Germans. Duvid is eventually captured and is confined to one of the Nazi death camps, but manages to escape death by working as a tailor, using skills he learned from his father. Later, after the camps are liberated, he meets Hanna whom he eventually marries and settles down within Israel after serving as a freedom fighter for the fledgeling post-war state. Tired of all the strife he has faced in his life, the family emigrates to Canada to start a new life.

Despite its length, Gravitational Fields is not a sprawling, disjointed novel. Mr Rajchgot maintains an even pace to the storytelling, rarely wandering off the main path. When he does, it is to explore some metaphysical thoughts on existence, the universe or religion, all which play a role in creating the differing gravitational fields the main characters experience, in particular, Adam and Simon the twin sons of David and Hanna. When Simon, a journalist decides to go to Israel to interview Jews who, like his father came to Israel from other countries to help establish a Jewish nation, he then stumbles upon his father’s own story, one that David kept carefully hidden away in an old valise in a closet in their Montreal home for years.

I enjoyed Gravitational Fields, and while I at first found the threads of the story difficult to piece together, they do eventually get stitched together to form a tapestry-like story that has both depth and breadth, and most importantly, significance and purpose. A good, meaningful début novel from Montreal’s Harry Rajchgot.

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James FisherSome Rights Reserved