Tuesday, October 12, 2010

While We're Far Apart by Lynn Austin

Over the weekend, I described Lynn Austin’s recent book, While We’re Far Apart, like an intricate symphony. It begins with a rather straightforward melody: Penny watches as the man she pines for leaves for War on the eve of the American involvement in WWII and offers recklessly to take care of his two motherless children in hopes of securing his love upon his return from duty.

Shaking feelings of worthlessness long instilled from her over-bearing parents, Penny steps outside the front door of the house she has always lived in and charges toward a new future.

On the eve of his departure, widowed Eddie Shaeffer tries to ignore the pleas of his two young children begging him to stay. They don’t want Penny to move into their Brooklyn Apartment and usurp their dead mother’s space. They, instead, want their father to stay home from the war.

Eddie leaves to converse with Jacob Mendel, his Jewish landlord and another tune strings in.

Jacob’s wife Miriam and Eddie’s wife Rachel were both killed in the same untimely accident. As ramification, Jacob has lost his faith in Hashem ---- God seems so far away although the rabbi and his wife try desperately to tug the former elder back to the life of the synagogue.

And then, climactically and with discordance, the local synagogue is prey to an act of arson and a seemingly faraway hatred is brandished like a cymbal- jolt into the present.

The tune evokes a haunting change as more instruments are melded into each deft cadence and more bars are added to prolong the unraveling symphony. Dense orchestration including the introduction of new friends; wisps of letters from Jacob’s son and his wife in war-torn, Holocaust Hungary, and deep whispers of secrets from loved ones near and far merge to create a seamless piece.

There are themes of love and pursuit; of anger, of hatred of a clashing war. Of the brisk touch of this world and the world beyond. It is an almost perfect rendering of a tumultuous time.

Austin never writes without an over-arching theme and in While We’re Far Apart, the seeming absence of God is most resonant.

Jacob followed and meditated on the words of the Torah steadfastly only to find the seams of his world tearing and his life falling apart.

Penny isn’t sure how to believe in God: when she repeats over and over again all of her shortcomings.

Young Esther and her wordless brother Peter go through the motions of a Sunday Schooled upbringing attempting to reconcile the death of their mother with the faith she seemed to inspire in them.

All lives collide and cross--- and yet the almighty seems painfully silent.

While We’re Far Apart is a magnificent exposition of God in all of his seeming silences. Is He there when we can’t hear Him? ---There whether in the materialization of Christian or Jewish tradition? Even amidst a Holocaust recalling the treacherous reign of Haman and the unlikely heroism of Queen Esther? Amidst persecution, death and unwarranted vandalism?

How can we pick up the pieces of our faith if we’re not sure where faith leads?

What is God doing behind the scenes and how are His silences even more telling than His revelation?

The end of the song, the end of the book, empowers the reader to think of God in a personal and enraptured way. He can handle our anger and our despair: our lashings out and our pain….. for it is in these moments that we test our faith to breaking point, shirk any complacency and recognize that years later, when the glass is undimmed, that He was there working out the technical aspects, the last strains and chords of melody and sewing together a music so beautiful our human ears could scarce imagine it.
Readers, I LOVE ME SOME LYNN AUSTIN! She is my favourite current Christian writer and those of you who hanker for some intelligence in your faith-based writing will be floored!

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