Book Review: Sister Liberty
Reviewed by Elizabeth Zender
A unique historical novel about exploring the depth of relationships
Annie and Euphémie, both recently widowed, find themselves fleeing their home in France due to murderous circumstances, and they’re bringing Annie’s son Auguste with them. After they are helped by a few missionaries from the United States, the French trio sets their sights on Indiana with the Solemnites. From there, they embark on a devastating journey across the Atlantic to live in a seemingly blissful village with a Christian sect (or cult, as some may say) that commemorates solemnity.
Everything seems to be going well for a while, even if the missionaries do prefer to ignore the romantic stirrings between the widows. It is idyllic and beautiful and pleasure-avoidant, right up until things take a turn for the worse: Solemn is chosen to host the 1885 All-Tent Revival. It does not take much to imagine the sort of chaos that the trio are about to get into, especially since Auguste might be a little too clever for his own good.
I love Hill’s commentary on fellowship within this story. We are given a variety of instances in which philosophies and the modalities of conversation slam together in a way that is both thoughtful and humorous. Particularly exemplary of this are the conversations between Auguste and Pansy, one of the daughters of the Solemnite missionaries. Often, these two can be found butting heads over just about anything. Pansy has grown up within this strict and—for lack of a better word—solemn religious group, and her worldview is very much colored in that way. Auguste, on the other hand, takes his father’s word and raises it on the highest pedestal, causing a number of disagreements and clashes between the two.
When Pansy and Auguste run into a pair of siblings from Second Solemn, their views divulge further. Pansy wishes to engage in discourse surrounding their understanding of religion and the differences between the two Solemns, whereas Auguste is fascinated by the possibility of a bear attack in the village. It can be easy to forget the ages of the children as they speak with the same cadence as their adults, but the curiosity within Auguste is what brings you back to the reality: these are children in close quarters who just want to gain understanding.
From murder to bear hunts to the deconstruction of the way in which an entire religious sect has lived, Sister Liberty is fully-fledged revolution. With such a deep focus on the inner workings of the relationships between women and women, and women and society, the book is bound to stir up some curiosity in anyone.
Genre: Literary & General Fiction / Historical Fiction
Print Length: 418 pages
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