This is my first encounter with a novel based on Shaker life. The Shakers like the Amish hold a fascination with folks today because their beliefs and life styles are so vastly different from that which we are accustomed. I was vaguely familiar with the beliefs of the Shakers and their strict separation of men and women. But this book with it's authentically researched storyline was a true eye opener.
I found it difficult to read because of my feelings that it was just so wrong for people to give themselves so completely and without reservation to the Shaker belief system and life. It is little wonder to me that the Shaker beliefs and communities have died out. Now about this book.....
Jessamine Brady was taken to the Shaker village of Harmony Hill when she was but 10 years old because there was no where else for her to go and no one to care for her. She was well cared for and taught the Shaker religious beliefs and way of life by the senior Sisters. She struggled with memories of stories (make believe) that her Grandmother had told her and dreams of life outside of the Shaker village. However, make believe was a sin as was any thought of the outside world. Shaker community life consisted of work, prayer, food (in silence), sleep, and worship. Nothing else was allowed.
Their worship consisted of learned dance steps that they did as a group basically separated - men on one side of the room and women on the other. Stomping, fainting, whirling.
Jessamine was out in the woods with another Sister picking berries when they heard a gun and investigated. They found a man from the outside world unconscious and with a head wound. They took him back to Harmony Hill for care. Thus Tristan Cooper enters the scene. This opens the door to Jessamine to the outside world and the dreams from her past.
The book is lengthy (431 pages) and the internal struggles of Jessamine and descriptions of Shaker life are extensive. To me it was sad. I appreciated the dedication of the Shakers to their faith, but it was depressive to see such repression of thinking, expression, care. There was actually evil contention (in my opinion) by Sisters against Jessamine for perceived sins.
Jessamine does get a taste of the world and the impact on her is difficult. She sees worldly beauty, but she also gets to thoroughly enjoy the birds singing and the beauty of flowers and woods and clouds and sky - a sin to enjoy such in the Shaker community.
Her heart is touched with emotions for Tristan that in Shaker life she must repress, but in the world she does not need to repress as a sin. Will she be able to conform for a lifetime of Shaker life and its separation from the world or will she embrace her heart's feelings and be able to live in the World?
I enjoyed the book and the tender story. I would recommend the book to anyone who desires a sweet story, an authentically research insight into Shaker life and beliefs, and a well-written book.
|A Shaker village in Connecticut|
Information about Shakers: http://www.shakerworkshops.com/resources/who-are-the-shakers
About the author: Ann H. Gabhart lived near a restored Shaker village in Kentucky and has thoroughly research the material for this book in her Shaker life series.
Publisher: Revell - Release date: July 2012
DISCLOSURE: I was provide a complimentary copy of "The Gift" by Ann H. Gabart and Revell a division of Baker Publishing Group for the purpose of rendering my honest review and opinion. No compensation was given.