Book Review: The Price

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.

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The blogger was furnished with a free copy of
The Path to facilitate an honest review.

Journey to Zürich: Excerpt: Martin of Gfenn

Today author Martha Kennedy joins us once more for our Zürich series in which we are introduced to the city and a bit of its history, seen through historical fiction and the author’s own experiences. We are given a glimpse of life as a leper in the Middle Ages via excerpt from Kennedy’s first novel, the indie B.R.A.G. Medallion-winning Martin of Gfenn.

mog-2nd-edition-frontThis is the story of a young Zürich artist, Martin, who in the mid-thirteenth century, contracts leprosy at age nineteen. He fights the disease’s physical effects and ensuing social stigma to paint fresco – what he believes is his destiny and in so doing, encounters the Knights of St. Lazarus and his own philosophical focus of Christ’s teachings. Here we join the narrative at Christmas as Martin struggles to reconcile the turn his life has taken.

Do see below for a fascinating video compiled by author Martha Kennedy, who provides background to the story and that of medieval lepers overall, including how the Knights of St. Lazarus would have come to be. The last link takes us on a tour of the city through the author’s eyes.

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Martin’s First Christmas at the Lazarite Community in the

Village of Gfenn

Introduction and background:

At this point in the novel, Martin of Gfenn, Martin has been part of the community for two months at the most. The chapel belonging to the community of the Knights of St. Lazarus is new, just finished, and Martin has no way of knowing at this moment how important it will be for him. He is mentally, emotionally and spiritually numb, trying to reconcile his circumstances — a shortened life of diminishing powers — with his artistic drive and vision. He doesn’t want to be in this place; he doesn’t want to have leprosy; however, he has leprosy and there is nowhere else to go. 

The new chapel is about to be sanctified by the Preceptor of the Knights of St. Lazarus. Some of the other residents — all lepers — have asked Martin to join them as they go to the forest to find the Christmas tree, though then it was not called a Christmas tree; it was called a Paradise Tree and hung with red apples, symbolizing humanity’s return to Eden with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Chapel at Gfenn, winter 2016

From Martin of Gfenn

by Martha Kennedy

Christmas Eve morning, Brother Hugo spoke to Martin, “Come with us. We are going to the forest to cut a tree and boughs to decorate the sanctuary. The Preceptor arrived last night.”

Martin had no interest in the chapel though all around him saw it as a great boon, a sanctuary for those banished from all others, but his habit had become simply to go along. He followed Brothers Hugo, Lothar and Heinrich outside the gate where a peasant waited with a sled. The sun had finally risen, though fog-bound and dim.

The four lopsided men in long black tunics followed the sled across the frozen fen and into the wood, the ice-covered pine needles clinking like crystal as they passed. Martin felt the forest’s magic pull and filled his lungs with the open air, cold though it was. “Take care, Brother; you are not used to this. You’ll catch your death,” warned Brother Hugo.

They stopped in a small clearing surrounded by pines. With a sharp saw, the peasant cut branches, while the four lepers looked for a fir the right size for the Paradise Tree.

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Chapel at Gfenn Christmas tree, 2016. Elegant and lovely in its simplicity.

“Will this one do?” called Brother Heinrich a few yards away.

“We may find nothing better.” Brother Lothar was anxious. He and Brother Heinrich were assisting at the mass, and he feared they would not return in time.

After a few strikes of the peasant’s axe, the tree fell in a cloud of fresh snow.

Martin and Brother Hugo lay the pine boughs around the base of the altar and set high candelabra and large candles throughout the chapel to light the dark corners. The peasant made a stand of two boards for the tree, and Sisters Regula and Ursula tied apples and candles to its branches. For this day, the sisters had sewn a new altar cloth of white linen embroidered in white silk thread, with symbols of worship and the Lazarite cross entwined with grapevines. Benches were set near the front for those who could not stand or kneel. Minutes before the midday mass in which the chapel would be consecrated, the dark room had been transformed.

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Some great links to peruse …

What is “Gfenn” and where is it?

Lazariterkirche Gfenn

Quartierverein Gfenn

Zürich Through Time and Space

 And a video with fantastic background, but also vibrant, beautiful images that shed some light on the dark …

Follow Martha Kennedy to learn more about the author and her books at her website, Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, Indie B.R.A.G. author page, or her Savior blog and Facebook pages, and the Martin of Gfenn webpage.

martha-kennedy

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Images courtesy Martha Kennedy.

Stay tuned for more in our “Journey to Zürich” series.

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Journey to Zürich: The Brothers Path (Book Review)

Today we set off on a new series and bit of a journey to sixteenth-century Zürich, by way of author Martha Kennedy and her magnificently-told tales. Her second novel, Savior, previously reviewed in these pages, brings us next to The Brothers Path and the six Schneebeli brothers, descendants of characters in its predecessor. Stay tuned for more from this wonderful author and what she has to say about it all.

The Brothers Path by Martha Kennedy

the-bros-path-cover-fb-headerIn The Brothers Path, set in 1520s Reformation Switzerland, author Martha Kennedy brings us to an era that often seems to get the short end of the stick in history classes. These are the days of Zwingli and Manz, when infant baptism was rejected, then, by Zwingli, supported. Barely concealing the selling out of his beliefs in exchange for the influential support of the Zürich council, Zwingli rose in prominence and power. Using corruption of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy as an overture, his teachings turned to condemnation of Lenten fasting and the use of images in worship, and promoted clerical marriage. He also re-organized the structure of the Mass.

Manz, for his part, continued his activism against infant baptism believing, as Zwingli had originally declared and Andreas, one of six Schneebeli brothers in The Brothers Path frantically ruminates in the novel’s opening pages,

that children should be baptized only “… after a firm faith had been implanted in their hearts and they had confessed the same with their mouth ….”

Manz’s support of adult baptism led to the refusal of parents to baptize their infants as well as the rise of the Anabaptists—“re-baptizers”—who believed their adult baptismal was the only true one, having come after their own freely chosen confession of faith in Christ. The Anabaptists were ordered by the council to cease their activities; they refused and Manz was executed by drowning under the authority of a newly minted edict outlawing the group’s religious practices.

As the novel opens and Andreas is left alone with his prematurely newborn brother Rudolf, his monk brother Hannes is summoned and Andreas directed to baptize the dying infant. He silently declines, later rebuked by Hannes, who insists the child unable to be buried with its mother in consecrated ground.

In this manner the Reformation propels its way into the Schneebeli household, one of some standing in the village outside Zürich, though past its prime. Hannes, who has been questioning particular angles of his faith, though not his devotion, is the first to realize the forceful manner in which the new ways will overtake the old. He sees some validity in their messages, but sympathizes with Catholics who wish to remain such. It is here that Kennedy’s neutrality really shines in its honor, for she not only gives the old prior at Hannes’s monastery voice, but also a compelling, humane position.

“Look at the women who go to that battered little Virgin.” The prior crossed himself. “They believe she will help them conceive a child. Some leave her money, which we collect and use for the poor. Do these women believe they can ‘buy’ help from that statue? I don’t know. Perhaps. Still, when they return home, their heart is lightened. They have told their troubles and they feel less alone.”

He goes on to assert the power of art distinct from any idolatry and the manner in which each new generation utilizes scripture for their own ends. Hannes expresses his mixed feelings as the two prepare for their church’s denudation—objects newly prohibited for worship will be seized and sold or melted down for money for the poor—and feels gladness upon noticing that the linden-wood Virgin has disappeared, surely taken by the prior to the safety of Einsiedeln or Luzern.

Brother by brother, the author journeys us through the march forward of the new religion, allowing us to bear witness not merely to events that affect them, but also the manner in which the new ways touch all lives. Zwingli’s declarations do not allow for people to “live and let live” or simply keep their heads down, and there is no room in this new order for respecting the beliefs of others as the theocracy some scholars believe he created begins to take shape. Kennedy’s personal religious beliefs do not make themselves apparent because, while those on all sides of the dispute state their criticisms and she gives them free reign to do—it is Zwingli and his forces who oblige their whispers—we recognize the coercive nature of beliefs and the ramifications of such coercion as the destructive agent. When Hannes travels to Zürich for information we are given an early glimpse into the manipulative manner in which the demolition persuades its way into the tolerance of good people.

Jud paused. “Join us. As I said, all of the canton will have to join us sooner or later.”

 “Have to, Brother Jud?”

 “Well, yes. It would be most unkind of us to allow our neighbors, our brothers and sisters to continue on the road of sin, not knowing our Lord and Savior, in thrall to superstitious idolatry, believing they can buy their way into Heaven.”

 Hannes began to fear for the abbey.

It should be noted also, that this is more than a tale of people working or riding their way through a religious crisis. In itself that would be a compelling story, but under Kennedy’s guidance we are gifted scenes in the lives of love, dreams, disappointment, regret, honor, compassion, loyalty and more. With dexterity she lays out, for example, the inner running of Old Johann’s flour mill, written succinctly, but with the detail we need in order to understand the passion he has, a fervency that led to him acquiring it, building it from near nothing and passing it on.

Also striking is the manner in which the family —including extended members, spouses, children and so on—and villagers care for each other and attempt to provide physical, spiritual and emotional shelter for others even when they wrangle. It’s not that Kennedy’s characters are always agreeable; they’re not. They clash with each other, sometimes bitterly, and terrible heartbreak ensues resulting from poor choices paired with selfishness. But they can also pull it all together to act on behalf of those in danger, or simply to live up to the respect they know others deserve, even when the other party had not done the same, especially in the matter of religious belief. This gives reflection to an underlying tenet of what religious perspectives they all do share, of forgiveness and doing unto others, perhaps the most difficult of all.

Throughout the novel, with shifting perspectives and labeled as such at the start of each chapter, the author magnificently transports us from village to city and various scenarios, often via a trail referred to as The Brothers. Named for three brothers, children of two characters in Kennedy’s previous novel, Savior, the pathway provides a link not only to other locations, but also to ancestors and their experiences, and a guide to how they got to be who they are and, ultimately, who they want to be. In better times and in crises, including escape from authorities who have by now begun to bear down on even the lying-low Schneebelis, the trail provides connection, later revealing a discovery that harkens back to a time before the rise of what simply is a new master and a destructive campaign to be free of it.

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Savior is a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree (click image)

Having previously reviewed Savior and come to care about Rudolf, the Schneebelis’ ancestor, it was a small delight to encounter reference to him here. The Brothers Path also continues to confirm Kennedy’s strong sense of a people as she realistically and compellingly paints a portrait of a time with her dialogue, historical events and individuals—including Heinrich Schneebeli, her own ancestor—mingled with those of her imagination, producing a greater understanding of what it was to experience life in a dangerously divided society.

There is great loss in this novel, though as mentioned earlier, it is not merely a catalogue of oppression and war. A glimpse into the Schneebelis’ lives, even during disputes, carries us through the steps of how creeping conversion takes hold and people seek to stand by their values while by necessity quietly resisting. The language is lovely and we can understand, through the awareness of how much family means to these people, how even a character not really all that likeable can come across as sympathetic.

Also as mentioned before, the novel does not take sides—except perhaps with freedom—and the author beautifully presents elements of worship without proselytizing. This, of course, broadens the potential readership, which naturally is a wise strategy, but it isn’t strategy that keeps readers with a book after the first few pages if it isn’t well written. From start to finish the Schneebelis’ story draws reads in, perhaps at first for the expression, later for the family themselves and ultimately what it all means for every one of us. The Brothers Path is another work of art from an award-winning author who generously shares her gift of story with us, and hopefully will again.

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Stay tuned for more from the “Journey to Zürich” series and author Martha Kennedy!

About the author…

Martha Kennedy has published three works of historical fiction. Her first novel, Martin of Gfenn, which tells the story of a young fresco painter living in 13th-century Zürich, was awarded the Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society Indie Review and the BRAG Medallion from IndieBRAG in 2015.

Martha KennedyHer second novel, Savior, also an BRAG Medallion Honoree (2016), tells the story of a young man in the 13th century who fights depression — and discovers himself — by going on Crusade.

Her third novel, published in July 2016, The Brothers Path, a loose sequel to Savior, looks at the same families met in Savior three hundred years later as they find their way through the Protestant Reformation.

Kennedy 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.

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. For many years she lived in the San Diego area, but has recently returned to Colorado to live in Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley.

All of Martha Kennedy’s novels are available in both paperback and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other online booksellers. You can also contact the author!

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Follow Martha Kennedy to learn more about the author and her books at her website, Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, Indie B.R.A.G. author page, or her Savior blog and Facebook pages.

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The blogger was furnished with a free copy of The Brothers Path to facilitate an honest review.

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