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War is Easy, Peace is Hard - an Editorial Review of "Teach the Children to Pray"

Book Blurb:

Teach the Children to Pray is an intimate portrait of a young woman’s coming of age, set in Germany during the Thirty Years War. Exiled and driven to the army’s baggage train as a child, Josefine Dorn survives hardship and discovers her calling as a field surgeon, tending to the war’s broken and ailing. In a time of religious upheaval, she finds unlikely friendship in the company of a Jewish surgeon, an army whore, a deacon’s daughter, and a Jesuit priest, as they strive to hold onto what truly matters in spite of plundering armies and narrow-minded princes.

Early readers have called it “evocative and beautifully written” and have become deeply invested in the characters and their stories. I really enjoyed writing Josefine and bringing her special combination of blunt talk and deeply felt empathy to life, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading her story too!

Book Buy Link: Coming soon!

Author Bio:

A Berlin-based author, narrative designer, and historian telling stories that fuse the imaginative with the personal, ordinary, and profound.

Editorial Review:

A priest first suggested I write out the story of my life—how it was I came to follow the armies and learn my trade and all the things, good and bad, I’d experienced since this endless war’s beginning. He thought it might do my soul good to recall the ways God had worked in my life; he thought it might bring me some measure of peace.

Peace! Peace was the first casualty of this war. God was the second.

The year it started, an ill omen, a comet, blazed across the sky, blotting out the stars. Blame the comet. Blame the stars. Like a bad harvest or a plague or a bolt of lightning, it’s easy to slip into believing this war was God’s idea.

But God’s got nothing to do with it. Princes make war. Emperors. They offer money to starving men, eight gulden a month, and put pikes in their hands, and they drill them to march in squares and bury their spears in men’s guts and give thanks to God it doesn’t happen to them...

In the quietude of the novel's initial lines, one is entangled, irrevocably tethered to a realm ensnared in the throes of war—a crucible of conflict through which the fragile tendrils of a young German woman's maturation unfurl. In her resonant narrative, Rebecca Harwick unveils the taciturn tales that implore recognition, beckoning us into the folds of "Teach the Children to Pray."

This literary sojourn navigates the obscured narratives of women and children ensconced within the baggage train of the Army during the tumultuous epoch of the Thirty Years War. Despite the seemingly doctrinal implications, faith manifests as a nuanced prism, refracting across Christians, Jews, and non-believers alike, ensnaring them within its intricate tapestry. The Thirty Years War, the apogee of religious conflicts postulating the Protestant Reformation, threads its indelible essence throughout the chronicles, an indomitable thematic motif that weaves the historical veracity into the warp and weft of fiction's fabric.

Historical fiction, by its very nature, bequeaths unto its audience the amalgamation of fictitious personas against the visceral tableau of veritable historical epochs. Herein lies a narrative that delivers a poignancy that transcends the artifice of imagination, delineating the majestic tapestry of a bygone era. The pathos of this era, the vicissitudes of time immemorial, palpitate through the narrative, a lamentation echoing across the chasm that divides then from now.

I suppose I should begin with my birth, ordinary though it was. My mother was busy toiling in my father’s tannery when the first of her labor pangs came over her. A stubborn, practical sort of woman, she kept right on working until she could no longer stand for the pain. My father went to fetch the midwife, but she was two towns over at the time, tending to farmer Ehrlich’s mare. So, the horse had the midwife, and I had only my mother’s cries and the fulsome scent of tannins to guide me into the world. Those first years were relatively peaceful, or so I gather. I have little memory of them. The town we lived in, Ellwangen an der Jagst, was an unassuming small place, much like any little town you might find on the border of Swabia and Franconia, with its tradespeople and taverns, its chapter house and church, its storehouses and market square, surrounded by rolling grain fields and forests of feathered spruce trees.

The eponymous heroine, Josefine, assumes the mantle of narrator, her discourse commencing not merely at the threshold of her own existence but resonating from the very moment of her birth. Her narrative effuses a lyricism redolent of the seventeenth century, an epoch when language bore the imprint of a long-forgotten elegance. This historic aura serves as a temporal bridge, invoking the vestiges of the era while extending an embrace to the contemporary reader, rendering the narrative both authentic and accessible in its temporal dissonance.

Within the tapestry of Josefine's existence, one discerns the palpable weariness that besets those beleaguered by the incessant turbulence of religious warfare. Faith, once an unassailable bastion, now stands among the casualties, a poignant testament to the war's inexorable toll. What remains in its stead is a haunting question—a maternal quandary—what teachings shall replace the creed that time and turmoil have wrested from her grasp?

Harwick's storytelling prowess is evident in the novel's compelling narrative, which captivates readers word by word, page by page, until the satisfying conclusion. The book is impeccably written and edited, devoid of distracting errors that might disrupt the immersive experience. The pacing of the story arc is well-crafted, providing a seamless flow from one chapter to the next.

However, it is the character development that elevates "Teach the Children to Pray" to a literary masterpiece. Harwick skillfully crafts multidimensional characters, making their struggles, triumphs, and transformations resonate with authenticity. The protagonist, Josefine, emerges as a relatable figure whose journey serves as a microcosm of the broader human experience during a turbulent historical period.

The deacon was sitting at his wife’s bedside when we entered, his hands folded in prayer, eyes staring straight ahead. No sound came from his mouth; his lips did not move.

Salomon led him to the foot of the bed, where he lifted the blankets to reveal the woman’s blackened toes. There was not a one of them that was not putrid with decay, from the tip to where they met the foot. The rot on the left foot was more advanced than the right, running near up to the heel. The deacon covered his nose and turned his head away.

In a low voice, Salomon laid out the two miserable choices that now presented themselves.

The deacon listened distractedly, his gaze flitting back and forth between his wife and Salomon. “Yes, do what you must,” he said when Salomon had finished.

The novel's uniqueness stems not only from its historical backdrop but also from the author's unwavering dedication to the craft of writing. Harwick's ability to weave a narrative that explores the profound lessons war survivors impart to future generations is commendable. Beyond its historical context, the novel delves into the nature of war, the pursuit of peace, and the enduring power of faith, offering lessons that resonate even in contemporary times.

Empathy for Josefine becomes inevitable as readers traverse the emotional landscape of her experiences, leaving them pondering their own reactions and emotions in similar circumstances. In essence, "Teach the Children to Pray" is a heartfelt journey into the past, leaving readers with timeless lessons that transcend the boundaries of time and culture.


“Teach the Children to Pray” by Rebecca Harwick receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



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