Calm Before the Storm (review)

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Calm Before the Storm by Janice L. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The year is 1914. All is idyllic on the Hildebrandt’s Succoth estate in Crimea—but for the death of mother. This has left the well-to-do Hildebrandt family (father Heinrich, children Katarina [16], Maria [14], Peter, Nicholas, and Anna) wifeless, motherless, and without a teacher. Enter Johann Suderman, a young teacher from the Mennonite Molotschna Colony, whom Heinrich soon employs to tutor the youngest children.

The beginning of World War I together with growing tensions between the land-wealthy Mennonites and their poor Russian neighbours heightens suspense and brings a sense of foreboding. Through Johann’s Russian friend Paul Tekanin we see Bolshevism and the revolutionary movement take root. The Hildebrandt’s and Johann’s connections of family and friends in the Molotschna Colony make us privy to premonitions of change coming there as well.

A blossoming romance, that ripens like the sweet fruit of the Succoth orchard, ramps up emotional interest. Watching characters flesh out gradations of spiritual faith, from rote religion to a deeply personal relationship with God, challenges us to examine where we are in the practice of the faith we claim to have.

Calm Before the Storm is beautifully written. Characters are believable and sympathetic (even the not-so-favourite ones). Dick does a great job of placing us in the setting with masterful broad-brush descriptions of the landscape to fine-painted details of cottage and barn. I could all but taste the familiar foods—the zwieback, rollkuchen, borscht, and cracklings of my youth—which load the tables of these forefathers and foremothers.

Calm Before the Storm is a wonderful read for any lover of historical fiction and a must-read for the student of Mennonite history. I can’t wait for the release of Book 2, Eye of the Storm, hopefully later this year.


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