The Captive Heart, by Dale Cramer (Bethany House, 2011)
Caleb Bender is a man of integrity and courage, and most of all a man of faith. Book one of the Daughters of Caleb Bender series followed the family as they fled religious persecution in Ohio and struggled to establish a new home in a fertile Mexican valley.
The Captive Heart is the second in the series, as more Amish families have followed the Benders to the new settlement. Caleb’s daughters Rachel and Miriam continue to be key characters. Rachel has been united with her beloved Jake and Miriam is conflicted over her feelings for her father’s Mexican farm hand/protector, Domingo. Especially when she prays for guidance and dreams of his death.
In Paradise Valley, Miriam convinced Rachel not to return alone to Ohio to join Jake, saying family mattered more than personal happiness. Now she takes her own advice and resolves to “get over” Domingo and find a nice Amish boy to marry. But her heart has another agenda.
Romance is only one of the plot threads, and the novel has a lot more action than much Amish fiction. There are bandits, kidnapping and illness. It’s frontier life in the 1920’s, and it’s skilfully told in true Dale Cramer style.
Faced with violence and death, Caleb and his family hold true to their commitment to not fight. Jake defies a bandit’s threats with “I fear hell more than I fear you… If you choose to murder this man in cold blood, it is between you and Gott. I will not throw away my own soul.” (p. 203)
As a non-Amish person accustomed to the philosophy of self-defence and protection of others, I found it difficult to relate to this, but these characters are as scared and hurt as anyone else would be. They simply manage to keep God in first place according to their understanding. I suspect we could all benefit from entrusting more of our needs to God and being less quick to act in our own defence.
Dale Cramer is descended from members of the actual Paradise Valley colony of Amish settlers in Mexico, although the Daughters of Caleb Bender series is fictional. For more information, read the publisher’s Q&A with the author as well as discussion questions for readers. You can learn more about Dale Cramer at his website, or check out his recent interview at the WordServe Water Cooler.