Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book Review: In the Company of Others

Although I have heard of the Mitford series books, I have never before tried a Jan Karon book. While I found it slow-going at the beginning, I'm glad I persevered with this book. By the end, I felt like part of the community of characters and cried over the trials and tribulations they experienced.

The story follows Episcopal priest Tim Kavanagh as he journeys with his wife, Cynthia, to Ireland for a bit of vacation time. It seems their trip is doomed from the start with difficulties in scheduling. When an intruder startles Cynthia, she injures her leg, leaving them tied down to the small inn they have been staying in. Shortly after that, a beloved painting goes missing. The two get caught up in the mystery, while also getting caught up in reading an old diary from years gone by.

The book had an excellent message, but the message was secondary to the story. In the midst of a wonderfully woven tale, Karon manages to impart words of wisdom and encouragement to the reader. I was especially struck by the message of hope voiced in a passage where an alcoholic elderly woman is recounting to Cynthia how she has tried to keep her sisters and mother alive:

Cynthia states, "It's very wrong to keep the dead alive, for it keeps us from living truly. You must forgive yourself, Evelyn."

E: "I cannot."

C: "You must forgive God."

E: "I cannot."

C: "You cannot have peace without forgiveness."

E: "I do not deserve peace."

C: "It's what God wants us to have."

E: "Does God ask me what I want him to have? I want him to have pity, to have mercy, and the common decency to give us a life without struggle and disgrace."

C: "Oh, my. We can forget that last notion. He is formed, himself, of the greatest pity and mercy, but without struggle and even disgrace, how would we ever know him, run to him, seek his refuge? We would not."

That passage alone did my heart and soul good. As the front cover suggests, "Set against the music of Irish song and storytelling, In the Company of Others reminds us of our desperate need to be heard and the reconciliation that comes with confession." This was a very worthwhile read.

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