18/04/2008

A Bride for Donnigan (by Janette Oke)

I first came across Janette Oke in the early 1990s when we lived in the USA for a couple of years. I was able to borrow several of her books from the library, and found them enjoyable light reads - as far as I remember they were all historical, all based in the USA or Canada, and all had a low-key Christian message within the stories.

Since then I've picked up a few of her books inexpensively; they're not demanding reads at all, but good to pass a couple of hours. I first read 'A Bride for Donnigan' about ten years ago, I suppose. I remembered the basic theme of the book - a fictional account of some young women from Europe going out to the USA frontiers as brides 'sight unseen' to farmers and ranchers and other people who would otherwise probably not be able to get married, since there was a serious shortage of women. This did happen, so the story is based in accurate history.

This book is about Kathleen O'Malley, of Irish parenthood. Her mother died when she was small, and her father fell on hard times until he re-married a rather unpleasant woman who insisted that Kathleen call her 'Madam'. By the time Kathleen is sixteen, she has been working as a bakery assistant, hawking pastries in the poverty-stricken streets of London to earn a few pennies. She's also treated as a servant in her home, expected to look after her half-siblings, cook and clean.

So although she is at first shocked to read of American men ordering brides from overseas, and cannot imagine how any respectable girl could sign up, she is persuaded to do so when her step-family's circumstances are due to change yet again.

In the first few chapters we meet Kathleen as she makes this momentous decision, and we also meet Donnigan, the farmer who is to be her husband. He, too, is rather suspicious about the whole idea and has grave reservations about it, particularly when he realises how very young Kathleen is.

The main part of the book is about Kathleen and Donnigan learning to understand each other better, discovering what married life really means, and - in the final chapters - discovering God.

The book is well-written, with very believable characters and a setting that certainly feels realistic. There's enough detail to give a good picture of Donnigan's farm, without it becoming boring, and plenty of characterisation and conversation to make the story interesting.

The end part does give the Christian message pretty strongly, in a way that might seem annoying to some, although it's not preachy as such. It is presented by Donnigan himself working his way through the Bible, asking questions, and finally understanding what salvation and forgiveness mean. So it's in a fictional setting, and works quite well even though the content is predictable.

All in all, a good light read suitable for adults or teenagers, with some interesting perspectives on what life might have been like for some of the mail-order brides.

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