World War 2 romances are a favorite of mine and I tend to pick up anything set in this time period. With this particular novel I was excited to explore a piece of history heretofore undiscovered by me – the part of the Amish in this important conflict. I hadn’t really thought about what it would be like to be a German speaking pacifist during a time when your country was at war with Germany. In a word, it was complicated.
Rebecca Fisher is a young widow who has a lot on her plate. Her husband had dreamed big and borrowed from the bank and now their small Amish farm is in arrears. Her young children miss their daadi, her family is urging her to sell her home and her grossmutter needs her help in cleaning out the attic at the family homestead. Rebecca reluctantly agrees to help her cousins do this chore for their grandmother, although she feels ill equipped to clean out family history when her own life is such a mess.
While in the attic, squabbling with her cousins over what should go and what should stay, Rebecca discovers the diary of a young woman named Anna Esch. Anna had lived in their small Amish community during the 1940s, a time when America was at war and the Englischers were suspicious of their German speaking neighbors. Feeling a connection with the troubled young woman, Rebecca becomes engrossed in reading about Anna, her come-calling friend Jacob, brother Seth and the neighbors who slowly began to turn their backs on the Amish whom they had previously befriended.
But even as she finds herself drawn to the past, the present keeps Rebecca plenty busy. She receives a letter from a couple who had previously done a farm stay with her family and wants to repeat the experience. While this would give her an opportunity to bring in some much needed money she is not certain that she can handle having guests without her husband there to help her. She knows she can manage the cooking and cleaning but he had always been the one to keep their guests entertained with stories of Amish living. Adding to her concerns is Matthew Byler. Once considered the community trouble maker, he had moved many years ago and most assumed he had turned his back on the Plain way of life. Now he is back, still a member of their faith. He wants to rent Rebecca’s large, empty stable for his woodworking business. Rebecca is initially averse to leasing the space – it is an acknowledgment that her husband’s death means he will never be able to fill it with horses as he’d dreamed – but she reluctantly sees the importance of being practical.
Almost right away, trouble begins. The local gossips start to talk about Rebecca and Matthew spending time together, even when that is not occurring. Her own family members urge her to keep the kids, who have grown fond of their tenant, away from Matthew. And Rebecca finds herself being one of the few people who will give Matthew a second chance. Does he deserve it? Or will time show that the rest of the community was right about him all along?
This is a sweet, slow paced story with a lot going for it. Matthew and Rebecca are both wonderful characters, wounded from their pasts but trying to find the way to their future without bringing that baggage with them. Rebecca realizes that one of her biggest problems is that she has always had someone to lean on – her dad, husband or brother – and she needs to learn how to bring a bit of independence into her life. Matthew needs to forgive himself for being human and not a perfect Amish man. They give each other the help needed to get that accomplished.
The story told in Anna’s diary about what happened to the Amish during the war was a fascinating one. Some of the boys joined, some were sent to work camps, but the families suffered either way. Learning about how the communities- Englisch and Amish- pulled together during these difficult years made for some very interesting reading.
My quibble with the book is with the romance. I was happy to see Anna and Matthew get together but it felt too quick for me. And while they spent a lot of time together as friends they just didn’t seem to have much of a courtship time. I would have preferred a more fully fleshed out love story.
That aside this is a charming read. If you like stories about the Amish and enjoy slow paced tales I think you will find plenty to appreciate in this book.