The Emerald Angel

Story teaches acceptance

The Emerald Angel
Wilma L. Derksen 

Herald Press, 2008

The Emerald Angel is an adult story told through the perspective of a child. Main character Ava feels invisible to her family; she’s an unwanted child whose mistakes are chastised and whose good deeds are overlooked. She is rescued from oblivion by her paternal grandmother (Oma) who recognizes her pain. “I had a place in her eyes,” realizes Ava.

Eventually Ava learns the story behind her grandmother’s acceptance. At one time an angel appeared to Oma, then left by a path through the orchard. Since then, that path has led many weary, broken souls to Oma’s house for consultation and advice. Ava, who spends most of her waking hours in Oma’s presence, observes these counselling sessions and learns about the life-giving aspect of listening and compassion.

With Oma’s help, Ava realizes that every person must face his or her own demons; that life is often what we make of it; that sometimes a calm exterior hides a soul in turmoil;  that “behind every cruel person there is much pain;” and that there is hope for every heart.

The beginning of the novel is weak. The story is told instead of shown, and feels more like an autobiography than a novel, but the depth of the novel’s exploration of relationships makes it a worthwhile read.

Derksen conveys a strong sense of time and place – the beautiful emerald valley of British Columbia “in the era before the Beatles, hippies, Vietnam and riots in the streets” – and addresses a variety of worthy themes. We read of families that struggle to communicate, of influential people who conceal dark secrets, of the destructive effect of gossip. We watch with Ava as Oma struggles through her own grief.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book is its oblique reference to the suffering experienced by characters in the past. Oma tells Ava, “We were on the edge of true happiness until the [Russian] revolutions came and destroyed everything we had… Every year brought losses – parents, grandparents, my roses, my kittens, my pictures, my diaries, my mother’s jewels, my dreams…”

Although these events are not part of the present story, they affect who the characters are. Derksen uses the past to colour the present, to show that we are often a product of what has happened in the lives of those who have gone before us. In this respect, Derksen’s book is important to us as a MB conference. Our personal histories, our memories, and our responses may differ, but there are enough similarities to unite us as a whole, and to encourage us to complement instead of compete with one another.

Near the end of the book, Derksen symbolizes human relationships as “the song of life.” The characters and events play out in a symphony that Ava begins to hear and understand, and in the end, she sees her grandmother in an entirely new light.

—Janice Dick is a writer from Guernsey, Sask., and a member of Philadelphia MB Church near Watrous, Sask. 

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