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Review: Eye of the Storm, by Janice L. Dick

Eye of the Storm, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2020)

During the turbulence of the Great War and the Russian Revolution, Eye of the Storm continues to follow the lives of the Hildebrandt family, Russian Mennonite landowners in an era of upheaval, and of Paul Gregorovich Tekanin, revolutionary and journalist.

Setting and circumstances unfold in sweeping historical saga style, giving readers a glimpse into the turmoil of Russia in 1917-1919. We see urban and pastoral, slum and estate, tragedy and hope… and the occasional flash of humour to keep the story from becoming too heavy.

Like the Amish in North America, the Mennonites’ faith teaches pacifism—a choice for which many have been persecuted or killed over the years. Here in this part of Russia where they’d been promised peaceful haven, some are now considering the desperate step of taking up arms to protect their families. Others press into the way of peace with the knowledge that it may cost their lives.

Favourite lines:

“Life is demanding. I believe when once one accepts the fact that it is so, one becomes much freer to make the best of it.” [Maria Hildebrandt’s grandmother, Chapter 2]

“No matter how insignificant or overwhelming our contributions may be, if we act in obedience to God and our conscience, we can make a difference.” [Johann Sudermann, Chapter 3]

The ideas were raw and unchewed, but Paul swallowed them whole, starved as he was for something to fill the enormous void in his life. [Chapter 14]

Reading this novel in the middle of the uncertainty of a global pandemic helped me draw courage from the Hildebrandts’ example. As they struggled to make sense in the darkness and to see their way forward, relying on their faith, I was reminded that for all that changes, much remains the same. Every generation faces difficulties, and somehow that perspective can give us hope.

Eye of the Storm is book 2 in Janice L. Dick’s Storm series, originally published by Herald Press and now re-releasing as part of The Mosaic Collection’s historical line. For more about the author, visit janicedick.com. For more about The Mosaic Collection, visit mosaiccollectionbooks.com.

[Advance review copy provided by the author.]

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Review: Calm Before the Storm, by Janice L. Dick

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.]

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