Historical story speaks to today

Other Side of the River: A story of love and faith under great tribulation
Janice L. Dick
Helping Hands Press

Review by Leonard Klassen

A “Russian-style” pose, characteristic of photographs from the book’s period.

What is the subject?

The Other Side of the River is a historical fiction novel set in Western Siberia in 1926 about Mennonites struggling to maintain their faith and values in an atheist culture. The author references several invaluable Mennonite history resources with the caveat, “I merely arranged the facts into fiction.” The basic clues about the subject matter are found on the back cover. There is no forward, no preface. Simply open the book and jump into the story.

Who is the author?

Janice L. Dick is an award-winning author of three historical novels. Readers are directed to www.janicedick.com for a much more detailed introduction.

My surprise was discovering that a co-worker of mine knows Janice from his growing up days in southern Alberta.

Why this book?

I wanted a break from theological reading and desired to lose myself in a novel. Having an interest in my heritage (my grandparents fled the former Soviet Union in the late 1920s, westward through Moscow), and enjoying stories, I decided this was the book to read while on summer vacation.

Comment on the book in light of the MB Confession of Faith

Here are some “theological perspectives” that I found myself reflecting on as I read. (A good novel deals with important issues, but in a subtler way than non-fiction literature):

  • Commitment to marriage (what do vows mean when separated from each other with no confirmation of death or life?)
  • Peace (in particular this novel addresses the consequences of unrestrained anger/temper)
  • Trust in God (specifically during very trying times of persecution)
  • Suffering (one cannot help but consider the role of suffering in the life of those who follow Jesus)

Key insight:

As I read, I found myself reflecting on present events. Somehow the realities of 90 years ago in eastern Russia do in fact mirror realities today. But I’m not sure how to respond. I don’t live in a Mennonite village. I don’t think I would pack everything up and flee. But what if my forebears had thought the same way? The story challenged me in my understanding of what it means to follow God daily.

Downside…

At times some of the characters felt somewhat shallow. A few times I felt that the “simple answer” was settled for instead of greater anxiety in making decisions. (To be fair, I am comparing to many other novels who make no claim to be historical at all.)

Other relevant information:

I referenced reading this novel in a recent sermon, and two people quickly asked me if they could read it as well. It is a great way of sharing the stories of our forebears.

Who should read it?

Anyone with an interest in Mennonite history and a love for stories should read this. Do it. Get a copy for the church library. Read it, then find someone in your congregation who experienced something similar and ask them their story.

Favourite quotes:

“Do not hide from sorrow, my child. When it comes – and it will – embrace it and believe the rainbow will come after. That is the promise of our Lord, and He never fails.”

 

“One of the greatest keys to living this life is to accept the things we cannot change…there are enough battles to fight in this life without fighting against God.”

 

 

Leonard and Bonnie (centre) with two interns from Germany via Russia they recently hosted.

[Leonard Klassen serves as an associate pastor at King Road Church in Abbotsford. He loves to read novels of all sorts, and had caught a pretty bad travel bug. He dreams of visiting the places mentioned in this book.

 

One Comment on “Historical story speaks to today

  1. Thanks for the review, Leonard. In case you’re interested, I retrieved the rights from Helping Hands Press and re-released the book this January under my own logo: Tansy & Thistle Press. It’s available on Amazon…the green cover (which BTW was designed by Fred Koop who used to be the graphic artist at the Herald). The sequel, In a Foreign Land, is also available in both print and digital.

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