I received a free ebook copy of this novel from the publisher Revell Reads at Baker Books in exchange for an honest review as part of a blog tour.
Anna’s Crossing was a delightfully compelling read. An historical fiction told in the form of a log or journal, this tells of the dangerous and thrilling sea journey from the old world to the new for a group of Amish Germans who are seeking to own their own land and to worship in peace. Leaving the persecution and vindictiveness of what amounts to a feudal system (where the Baron overlord metes out his brand of “justice” as he sees fit) behind them, a group of about 28 families sets out for Rotterdam where they occupy the stinking lower deck of the Charming Nancy along with even more families of Mennonites. They suffer delays, sailors’ superstitions, extortions and swindles due to their unworldliness, and illness and storms in their 28 days at sea as they seek to live their faith freely.
Anna is travelling closely with two other families — Dorothea Bauer whose children have been like brothers to Anna and whose husband has gone ahead to Port Philadelphia in order to purchase land for them, and Christian and Mary Müller, Christian being the group’s minister and his wife, Mary, being the complaining, interfering busybody of their community. Just before they leave, one of the Bauer boys, Johann, is buried, having died from a whipping he received at the hands of the Baron for being caught trespassing. Anna is torn between the two worlds — she doesn’t want to leave her grandparents and the village where she has lived her whole life and she is afraid of what lies ahead — but Christian needs her interpretation skills. And “how do you say no to a minister?” She carries with her the rose bush that Hans Bauer had given her before leaving for the new world with his father — with her grandmother’s wisdom clearly in her mind — “as long as the roses survived . . . so would our people”. And also with her grandfather’s more prosaic and enigmatic advice, “some endings are really beginnings”.
Felix Bauer is wildly enthusiastic about the ship. Despite warnings to stay below decks, the exuberant 8-year-old has very soon won allies among the crew and is allowed to wander the ship — lending a hand, poking his nose in where it shouldn’t go, and picking up English (some of which would definitely shock his mother), as well as other things found lying around, and even climbing the rigging. Because his mother is listless and grieving still for Johann, it is left to Anna to watch over Felix — a trying task, to be sure. And, because Anna is needed to translate for Christian, she is finding herself often in the company of the young, handsome ship’s carpenter, 3rd in command of the vessel, Bairn, who trusts and cares for no-one but himself. Or does he? Something from his past lies just beneath the surface, haunting and taunting him. And something about Anna both disturbs and intrigues him.
The stories of shipboard conditions in the mid-1700s are familiar history to most of us (Roots, Amistad, history at school) but Fisher has created a vivid scene of scents and relationships, trials and circumstances that leap off the page and draw the reader in. One feels able to visualize the ship as well as Felix knows his way around it. You can taste the salt spray and hear the thunder, feel the wariness of the crew around the “peculiar people” at first, and sense the apprehension of Bairn about the sturdiness of the vessel, packed to the coaming and overdue for a refit. Added to the tension is Georg Schultz, the Neulander (recruiter) whose leering presence greatly disturbs Anna, and who holds some unknown claim over Bairn.
When they encounter the deathly stench of a slave ship, their faith and unwavering adherence to doing God’s will tests them and causes Bairn to question his denial of the existence of a loving God. He finds he must face his past, and find peace — with himself and with God.
I felt the same draw to the ship as Felix experienced and was happy to see the glossary of terms for historical ships. The author’s note at the end explained what few facts there were to base this novel on and how certain decisions were made that I found added a lot to my appreciation of the novel, as did the book club discussion questions that I thought would really increase the enjoyment this well-thought-out story. Fisher has a true grasp of life at sea and a gift for dialogue and description that made this a very fast, enjoyable read. * * * * *
This book is available in a variety of formats from Amazon and other fine book sellers.
This book satisfies my Epistolary Fiction read for The Eclectic Reader Challenge.
Learn more about the author Suzanne Woods Fisher.