5 days ago
Sunday, March 20, 2011
14. Saints by Orson Scott Card
We first meet Dinah Kirkham at the age of ten in Manchester, England in 1829. What a horrible time and place to be poor. More than a third of the book follows the Kirkham family as they struggle to survive and better themselves. Card portrays this stark existence so well along with the conflict between Dinah's two brothers, Robert and Charlie. Then the mother, Dinah, and Charlie meet a Mormon missionary and are converted overnight. I'm not sure I buy the overnight conversion; but in the interest of the story about a family and early Mormonism, I'm glad the author didn't spend a lot of time following a more believable conversion process. Like all the other English converts, the Kirkhams are called to emigrate to Nauvoo, Illinois. The harrowing ocean crossing was heart breaking as well as the description of early Nauvoo. It's Dinah's immediate attraction to Prophet Joseph Smith and his to her that left me cold. Let's face it, most of us Mormons like to remember the truly great things that Joseph accomplished in his short life. And we're not comfortable with the plural maariage issue. I do think Card's depiction of polygamy helped me understand it more. Even if the Lord commanded the practice, it makes sense that a man would want to marry women that he loved if at all possible. I know the Church doesn't really talk a lot about Joseph Smith being a polygamist, maybe because his wife, Emma, was so adamant against it. And the book is pretty hard on Emma. She is not very likeable at all although Card never suggests that Joseph felt anything less than total love and respect for her. In fact, Joseph is shown to be very human, sometimes vain, sometimes too trusting, (how does a Prophet of God let a man like John Bennet into his inner circle?), obviously untruthful to his wife, but always determined to follow the commandments he receives from the Lord and always compassionate to his followers. Brigham Young is shown in quite an unfavorable light and yet Dinah marries him after the exodus to Utah. The story touches on much of the persecution which the early Saints suffered but never digresses from the actual story of Dinah and her family. Card makes Dinah sound like a true historical figure but she is obviously based loosely on Eliza R Snow, a much venerated early pioneer woman. From the pictures I've seen of her later in life, she seems to have been quite formidable. As always, Card tells a compelling story with fascinating characters. I'm glad I read it, but I know I won't want to read it again. Rating: 3.5
P.S. What's with the Harlequin Romance cover? It made it hard for me to want to read this at all.