Her Mother's Hope by Francine Rivers
Caution: This review contains "spoilers." If you have not read the book, and intend to, stop reading now!
There were 14 Sisterchicks at Book Club tonight, and, since the book was nominated by Pam, she led the discussion. Everyone liked the book--although 2 of the girls said they were "mad" the whole way through the book! They said Marta's mistreatment by her father, Hildemara's mistreatment by her teacher, and some of the other situations in the book, kept them "stirred up!"
It was pretty much universally agreed that one of Francine Rivers' strengths is her character development. In the epilogue, Ms. Rivers revealed that she based some of the characters in Her Mother's Hope, loosely, on members of her own family. (Since I listened to the book, I had not read that commentary, or seen the accompanying pictures, until tonight.)
We all felt like we got to know the characters. We continued to think about them, long after finishing the book. Alice made everyone laugh when she said, "What's bad is when you find yourself praying for these people. Well, almost!" We knew what Alice meant. Francine Rivers has a real gift for bringing her characters to life!
Several people shared that, based on their own pasts, the scenarios were very believable. They identified so much with the beatings, abuse, comparison between siblings, and other situations, they were uncomfortable while reading.
Everyone agreed that this book was a departure from Francine Rivers other books. Her Mother's Hope had good moral lessons, and the Bible was mentioned, but was not a prevailing theme.
One of the strongest discussions about prayer was when Niclas counseled Hildemara to pray for the teacher who continued to demean her. Hildemara did so, very conscientiously. Even though the prayers didn't noticeably change Hildemara's teacher's behavior, Hildemara realized that her prayers had changed her own attitude, and given her empathy toward her teacher, because of the loss of her son during World War II.
The first part of the book was told from Marta's point of view. We started out with a discussion about how Marta's childhood difficulties affected her life. We agreed they gave her skills and taught her to be independent. Several of us had also read the sequel, which made us have trouble remembering what happened in which book, and several others had read the book long enough ago (2 weeks, one said), that the details were sketchy. Trying to remember character names sent us to the book, looking for the name of Marta's mother.
After a couple of minutes scanning the beginning of the book, it was determined, and announced, that Marta's mother's name was "Mama." That brought a fresh round of giggles as one of our members declared in mock astonishment, "That was MY Mother's Name!" and another chimed in, "Mine, too!"
We have a lot of laughs and fun in our book club! (I won't reveal ALL of the funny stories, private revelations, and prayer concerns about our children, and other family members and friends, though. What goes on at Book Club, stays at Book Club, you know! LOL!)
We discussed how Marta's relationship with her father colored how she saw God. We decided that Marta's mother was the more devout parent, and that Marta's father taught her that church was a only place to see people, and be seen. By forcing Marta to go to church with her eyes blackened from beatings, and making Marta sit on the back row, Marta's father gave Marta the message that she was only good enough to sit on the back row, "far away" from God.
Marta internalized the message that there was no hope of her ever pleasing God, the Heavenly Father, if she couldn't even please her earthly father. When Marta's husband was terminally ill, Marta finally started talking to God--even yelling at Him, while walking in the orchard to which Marta's husband had devoted so much of his time.
Marta's "Mama" wanted Marta to soar, while Marta's father wanted to control Marta. His primary objective was to collect the money Marta could contribute to the family. Marta epitomized her own Mother's "Hope" to escape, hence the title. OOPS! We were wrong! Hildemara was HER mother, Marta's "Hope!" Read the comments for more explanation!
Marta's "Mama" wanted her daughter to be freed from enslavement in the tailor shop, which "Mama" knew would be inevitable, especially after her death, if Marta did not leave. After Marta endured her father's hiring her out as a hotel assistant, then his exiling her to a school for maids, "Mama" sent Marta away, with a little bit of money, to fend for herself. "Mama" unselfishly released Marta, with the blessing to "Fly, Liebling!"
Marta showed great resourcefulness, and was to be admired, for making her dream of owning a boarding house come true. We were all glad Marta fell in love with Niclas. We understood that Marta had a hard time trusting Niclas, because of her own Father.
We all agreed that Niclas had pride, and that Marta wasn't "the best wife," but we weren't impressed with his passive aggressive actions, (for example: leaving Marta and making decisions to move and enter contracts, without consulting Marta.) There was much discussion about how we would have reacted, had we been put in the situation to abandon our hard-earned dreams, and follow our husbands to a farm!
The story continues, and changes at some point to the perspective of Marta's daughter, Hildemara. It was almost universally agreed that Marta really believed that she was helping Hildemara by being extra tough on her, because Marta did not want Hildemara to grow up weak and dependent, as Marta's sister, Elise, had been. (We all thought it was peculiar that Marta never once told Hildemara about Elise. The only reason we came up with, that Hildemara didn't tell, was the shame of unmarried pregnancy and suicide.)
Then, we were forced to rethink Marta's actions. One member raised the possibility that Marta was jealous of Hildemara. Even though Marta's motives for "toughening up" Hildemara were in many ways sound, Marta may have been jealous of Hildemara's tender, servant's heart. Hildemara may have irritated Marta, as Marta, maybe even subconsciously, compared the differences between her Hildemara's and her own personalities.
It was ironic that Marta longed for a college degree, and continually read and tried to better her education, while Niclas had a degree in Engineering, and only aspired to be a farmer. She always read her son's text books, and asked what he was learning in college.
Marta's mother's applying to college for Hildemara was an example of everyone's frustration that none of the characters in the book TALKED to each other! Sisterchicks kept saying, throughout our entire book discussion, "if they'd just had ONE conversation!" At least Hildemara's decision to be a nurse finally gave her the courage to stand up to her mother!
Marta said she didn't want her daughter to be a nurse, which was simply, in Marta's mind, a glorified maid. We thought that was interesting, especially since Marta had started out the same way, as a servant, by training, and by owning a boarding house.
Somebody pointed out that Hildemara had the most honorable and "normal" career out of Marta's three daughters, except that, for the times, nursing was probably less highly esteemed. The other two sisters' careers were artist and costume designer.
Lack of communication allowed so many misconceptions to flourish. Lack of communication sentenced several generations to unnecessarily troubled relationships. Hurtful secrets sentenced people to years of unnecessary torment. Kind words, gentle questions, and thoughtful explanations--efforts at communication--would have changed the course of Marta's family's history.
There was discussion about how "times have changed." Most everyone had stories about how our grandparents and parents were not as vocal or demonstrative as people are now. I think we all interpreted the book as an example of how NOT to interact with our own families!
We went down a few interesting rabbit trails as we were concluding our discussion! Pam signaled the end of our formal discussion after nobody had any more comments or questions.
Alice brought in information about a fundraising bookmark project, in support of the tsunami victims in Japan, which some local Japanese women are organizing. The bookmarks will have "Hope" written in Japanese on one side, and a name of your choice, in Japanese characters, on the other side, for $2.00. Alice collected money and order details from everyone at book club. If you're local, and interested in a bookmark, please leave contact information in the comment section, or e-mail or call me, and I will get the details to you.
The April Book Club Selection (which I nominated) is Pat Conroy's My Reading Life. I'm really enjoying it. I love Pat Conroy's vocabulary, and command of the English language. (I am reading the book AND listening to Pat Conroy read it!)
Sister Chicks: Did I miss anything you'd like to comment on, about My Reading Life? Anyone else have any comments? It's your turn!