October 09, 2012
Book Review: “Strangers in the Land” by Louise A. Vernon
I am always on the lookout for fiction set in the 1500s, 1600s, and early 1700s, especially concerning my religious interests. I recently embarked on the book “Strangers in the Land” by Louise A. Vernon and was pleasantly surprised. When I opened the small book, which is written for children and young adults, I worried it would be presented on a kid level. I was completely wrong. Though it does cater to a young audience by repeating and sometimes jumping too quickly from one event to another without explanation, the words were expertly crafted.
I must admit it was difficult for me to read, not due to any fault on the author’s part, but because I knew these kinds of things truly happened to my ancestors after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. One of the fictional events in the book involved a mother with a baby in her arms being implored to give up her faith. When she refused, the dragoon commander cut a few hairs from the child’s head with his sword, and the mother, wishing safety for her and her children, agreed to convert. Another event was when a company of dragoons moved into the main character’s home. Billeting in Huguenot homes provided the king’s soldiers the opportunity to do as they pleased, to destroy Protestant books, harass family members, and take whatever items they wanted for themselves. “Strangers in the Land” details the main character’s indignation that his family’s belongings might be so casually reassigned.
And these things actually happened.
While I do not know if children as young as twelve and seven were assigned to prison, as the main character and his brother were in this tale, much of the narrative --- the family’s initial degradations, harassment by the dragoons, and escape to England and finally America --- is very much what happened in many Huguenot families of the time. The boy Pierre, through whose eyes the story is told, recounts how Protestant children were taken away to convents. He explains how words were twisted in such a way that one might obtain a “confession” from a child that he wished to become Catholic, thus taking him from his parents to train up in that faith. Though I am uncertain if that was the norm, I shudder to think of how my ancestors, two of whom fled with a very young child, must have received such news.
With this story I learned that just because a book may be a classic or written before my generation, it does not necessarily mean the reading will be dry, boring, superfluous, or difficult to understand. This one was a fine read. It was rather short --- I read through in a day and a half and many readers could probably take less time than that --- but meaty, definitely a good choice for anyone interested in the 1600s and the religious upheaval of that era.
(c) 2012 Joyously Saved