Calm Before the Storm, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2020)
Family dynamics, faith, coming-of-age, and gentle romance, all set in the turbulent days leading up to the Russian Revolution.
From a haven-like estate in Crimea to impoverished rooms on the wrong side of town in St. Petersburg, from starving soldiers near the front lines of World War 1 to a private hospital for the mentally ill, and with other settings along the way, Calm Before the Storm evokes 1914-1916 Russia as experienced by the Hildebrandt family and their friends.
The Hildebrandts are Russian Mennonites, people of German heritage whose ties to this land only go back a hundred or so years. As the poorer classes grow more desperate for political reform, hostility also brews toward these “German” Russians.
Katarina Hidebrandt is a young woman who sees the best in everyone, yet she must acknowledge the growing tension and the sense that life is about to change. As her family separates and the young teacher she loves is sent to serve in the hopeless war effort, she learns to rely on her faith and to make what difference she can in her world.
What could be a depressingly heavy tale is instead told with a careful touch, beautiful descriptions, and traces of humour. The characters are honest in their questions and their choices, and somehow despite the pain they find hope (most of them).
As well as providing a fascinating glimpse into this period of history, the novel resonates particularly well with the brooding uncertainty of 2020. Katarina’s struggles in the face of unwanted change and trouble can help readers who are feeling the same concerns even if our situations are different.
It’s not a preachy story, but Katarina’s and others’ examples of living out their faith give us clues we may take to heart. I feel a bit better-equipped to face my own doubts when they sneak up on me again.
Some favourite lines:
The Juschanlee River wandered westward over the Russian steppes, collecting little villages on its meandering way… (Chapter 1)
“The air is so clean and clear, like it’s been washed and left to dry in the sun.” (Johann, in Chapter 5)
“In political crises people cease to view others as people, and instead consider them merely a means toward an end or, in this case, an obstacle to a desired end.” (Heinrich, Chapter 6… timely, no?)
“Yesterday is gone, and tomorrow is in God’s hands. No regrets, no worries. I can put all my energies into this day.” (Katarina, Chapter 8, but this peace was not easily won)
Calm Before the Storm is book 1 in Janice L. Dick’s Storm series. Book 2, Eye of the Storm, is expected to release in December 2020. The series was originally published by Herald Press and is now out of print. I’m glad to see new editions being released in print and ebooks as part of The Mosaic Collection. For more about the author and her work, visit her website.
[Advance review copy provided by the author. My opinions are my own.]