First off, I want to thank Ruth for sending this my way! Thank you, Ruth!
Next to Lynn Austin, Siri Mitchell is my favourite Christian writer in the historical genre and she gives us another strong offering in a series that focuses on fashion through the ages.
Here, the fashion theme is blatant: the story follows three young Italian seamstresses working for the formidable Mme. Fortier in 1917 Boston. The outside world is fraught with conflict: immigrants, anarchists, the Spanish Influenza, the American involvement in the Great War. Near home, Annamaria, Julietta and Luciana discover life and love in a delightful coming-of-age tale told in the style reminiscent of Montgomery or Alcott.
I should speak a little more to the narrative style. As proven in A Constant Heart and Love's Pursuit, Mitchell enjoys playing with narrative perspective in voice. In the glorious, INSPYs-winning, She Walks in Beauty ( which I certainly enjoyed reviewing and commenting on as a judge in the historical category ), it is ephemera: in society columns and newspaper clippings that informs Mitchell's unique narration.
I must admit that the voice in A Heart Most Worthy was grating on me at times: especially with consistent asides to the reader and with the same word ending a perspective and being used, in a slightly different context, to begin the next narrative point of view. However, I got used to it very quickly and it did not detract at all from my enjoyment of the story and its meticulous historical research. In fact, I am impressed by Mitchell's constant dedication to reinventing her story-telling technique. In a genre and market-place steeped in same-old, same-old tradition, it is nice that someone takes risk.
While Mitchell's narrative voice informs of many character triumphs and failings, it is still up to the reader to judge on their own while watching the action unfold.
There is plenty of action: from an assassinated count's daughter to a Romeo and Juliet love story between a young seamstress and the Sicilian grocer across the road to a passionate woman who skips confession to meet a sinister young man in questionable situations.
Mitchell handles the historical aspects, as always, with great fervour and respect and weaves them seamlessly into her tale. Moreover, she is true to the Catholic faith and tradition as it would have been the most prominent and lasting religion in the Italian Immigrant world. She is able to pursue great themes of faith and God's redemptive power in a religion not often at the forefront of evangelical Christian fiction ( Austin did this quite well with the Jewish faith in While We're Far Apart).
Perhaps my favourite thread in the story ( something I share with Books, Movies and Chinese Food's amazon review) is the developing love between Annamaria and the sweet grocer, Rafaello. In tradition, Annamaria, as eldest daughter, is expected to remain single, childless and devout to her family. When she meets the forbidden Sicilian grocer's son and begins a sweet, often wordless communication, she realizes that all of the dreams she has harboured guiltily for so long must become reality. She finds a voice, a backbone and the courage to attend to her own desires. Rafaello's devotion to her family, his enemies, is a great act of love (putting one in mind of the great sacrifice made in Love's Pursuit).
As per usual, I was delighted to have a new Siri Mitchell in my hands and I identified with aspects of each of the strong, different and equally amazing women and their plights in self-discovery and love.
Because I am such a massive Lynn Austin fan and because Austin excels at weaving multiple story and character lines within periods of history ( especially exploring a woman's place in a domestic sphere and in the greater sphere of historical significance), more than once my mind tried to conceptualize how she would deal with this experience were the plot submitted to her hand.
A great read and one I am sure will be seen on the INSPYs shortlist again.