Erin Bartels’ debut novel, We Hope for Better Things is a powerful story of three women in a lineage spanning 160 years, each living in pivotal times surrounding the Detroit area. From a time of escaped slaves and the civil war to the riots of the 1960’s on into modern times, each woman has a story to tell portraying the temperature of the American culture.
Mary Balsam, an ancestor from the civil war of the 1860’s was my favorite character in this book. A woman of depth and substance, she took a bold position fighting for escaped slaves in a community that supported the idea of abolition, but not the intermingling it birthed. Her story was one weighted with joy, heartache and betrayal. Blending good intentions and the not-so-perfect side of the human heart, Mary embodies each in her own actions and confronted by the same in those she is surrounded by. Her story moved me the most.
Nora Balsam, coming to age in the 1960’s also moved my heart, though it seemed a story more of rebellion against her own family than the current culture. Still, the stories of threats and tension tears at your heart and I found myself longing for her to forgive those who had wronged her and find the freedom that only forgiveness can bring.
Finally, Elizabeth Balsam, the figure of today struggles to fight the lingering injustice of Detroit. Disconnected from her family and a victim of her own lack of scruples, she finds herself without a job and a mysterious mission to a relative in the deep countryside beyond the perimeters of the city. Finding connection and love there, she decides to stay and reconnect with the roots of her heritage and preserve one of the greatest pieces of history.
This novel was a work of art in my opinion. Well written, each character presented a richness and depth. As the layers unfold, the stories of these three women run parallel and intertwine in their love for quilting and preserving history while pioneering a new culture. I recommend this book and look forward to more of what Erin Bartels has to say through her books.
The only thing I felt missing from this novel was the redemption of the soul. Forgiveness among each other, brings freedom but not salvation. For a society to find sincere and lasting change, it must first experience a powerful encounter with Jesus Christ, the Author and Creator of all life, before we will truly embrace the unique beauty found in all of humanity.
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