The Price by Martha Kennedy
Winner of the B.R.A.G Medallion
It’s been awhile since I’ve read anything from Martha Kennedy, and it didn’t take very long, once I opened up The Price, for me to settle into her simultaneously dramatic and rhythmic style of writing. Old worldish yet familiar, the story takes us once more through a portion of the author’s own family history as the stage is set for the characters’ eventual migration to the New World. Some readers may feel a bonding of sorts with those who people The Price, familiar as they are with parts one and two of Kennedy’s trilogy of the Swiss Schneebeli, though who also could not relate to a lifetime of longing?—especially when, as we see, it relates to liberty.
Like so many others before and after them, multitudes of Anabaptists from Switzerland who arrived on American shores did so to escape religious persecution. Their belief in separation of church and state was a forerunner to our own religious protections, but before this the Swiss Anabaptists suffered the indignities of arrest and imprisonment, torture, even the removal of their children. When Hans Kaspar Schneebeli reads the words of William Penn and the freedom and opportunities they promise, he yearns to escape the oppressive environment, dictated from Zürich, for a breakthrough life wide open with possibilities.
While at its foundation Kennedy’s tale seems to match so many others we’ve heard, she brings to it the individual nature of a world that directly plays a role in establishing our own, resulting in a recognizable link peopled by those whose joys and anguish we see almost personally as their fortunes waver throughout the years. Hans Kaspar is one such, and the author’s honest portrayal of him as a flawed man, whose own behavior leads to some of his own adversity, allows us to empathize in a more genuine fashion. Certainly we feel for him, even when he is hardheaded or irresponsible. Again, however, Kennedy’s skillful narrative—without ever once presuming to tell us how we should think—gently allows us to consider our own fallibility and offer a little forgiveness, or at least view him as a whole person as opposed to the sum of his sins.
My favorite vignette shows Hans Kaspar confronted by his own conscience, introduced by one of Kennedy’s carefully chosen chapter headings ~
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me—Matthew 25:40
“My heart is torn[,]” he tells the pastor, at whose home he seeks refuge from his internal battle between his greatest desire and those affected by whatever he chooses to do: venture to America, leaving behind a vulnerable old man as well his own innocent, motherless baby; or stay to care for them, despite having finally, finally earned enough to pay the exorbitant tribute fees. In the end we are left to make our own decisions regarding Schneebeli’s choices, his selfish attitude and brooding nature, but Kennedy’s portrayal also leaves room to consider his humanity. This evenhandedness is much more real for its refusal to plant the man squarely, or even majorly, in one camp, good or bad, and her theme of faith pairs with that of family, with references to ancestry and the series’ previous two works, Savior and The Brothers Path, weaving their aura throughout this installment and even the people themselves. They value their ancestors and mourn the reality that if they leave, they go forever, as “it is a crime to emigrate,” punishable upon return.
Family is no less important in America, though the journey has exacted a price, and Kennedy’s most internal theme begins to more strongly emerge with implied and actual questions pertaining to that which humans value most in life. Can one truly make a home away from their ancestral location? Is the price reflected in the novel’s title a worthy one to pay? Can we be as strong here, or perhaps better, than we were before? These and other questions are not always explicitly presented, making for a stronger narrative as further descendants arrive, in turns musing over family heirlooms we’d connected to much earlier in the tale. Not unlike the small thrill—or aching recognition—we feel with reference to the series’ other characters (such as the Swiss setting near the estate of those presented in the earlier books), the history of these items are ones we long to reach out and tell these people about: I know how much this meant to your mother or She crafted this with her own hands might blurt from our lips as Kennedy’s strength in historical storytelling has preserved for us too the lamentations, longings and lives of people, the very essence of whom lives on in items whose creation we were also party to. Material possessions they may be, they nevertheless provide a meaningful vehicle for the carriage of sacred memories and significance from one generation to the next, and the portrayal of that to readers. Kennedy performs this task with sensitivity and skill, and it is no wonder it is so easy to fall in love with her family and see them through the centuries, even when it is not.
If you have not yet been introduced to Martha Kennedy’s Savior or The Brothers Path, I encourage you to explore these remarkable reads—for the author’s wonderful storytelling, the depth of plot and meaning of the characters’ lives, to themselves and others, including us.
About the Author
Martha Kennedy was born in Denver, Colorado and earned her undergraduate degree in American Literature from University of Colorado, Boulder, and her graduate degree in American Literature from the University of Denver. She has taught college and university writing at all levels, business communication, literature and English as a Second Language. She has traveled intensively in Switzerland, journeys that have at once inspired and informed her writing. She has also published many short stories and articles in a variety of publications from the Denver Post to the Business Communications Quarterly.
For much more about the author and her books, see her blog, I’m a Writer, Yes I Am! and website, here. You can also follow Martha Kennedy at Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter and Indie B.R.A.G. author page.
The blogger was furnished with a free copy of
The Path to facilitate an honest review.