Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Saints starts with a vivid account of a "middle class" early 1800s Manchester family that is having some marital struggles. The father feels that the family is holding him back from his painting skills and walks out on them. The family then becomes transformed to lower class, with the children and mother required to work. Through their dedication and intelligence, they are able to rise back to their "proper" space. However, they encounter many struggles in the process, that start to tear the family apart. Eventually they hear a Mormon preacher, join the church, and sail to the new world (and help others to make the voyage.) However, not everyone makes the voyage. One brother has become a big industrialist and doesn't believe in the faith. He also helps his sister's husband to take his children back in an attempt to prevent her from going.

I found the descriptions of life in 19th century England to be very well done, and felt an attachment to the characters. The conversion to the Mormon faith did, however, seem a bit rushed. Though, the internal narration of the novel somewhat acknowledges it. The major outward "life-changing" and historical events are given brief coverage. Most time is spent on the inward "character-changing" events.

The second half of the novel deals primarily with life as a Mormon pioneers in Nauvoo, Illinois. Their faith is tested in numerous ways, both physical and personal. One of the key trials is the humanity of everyone. Even the prophet is a human with all the appropriate foibles of man. At the other end, some people that seem good on the outside may only be putting on a show.

Plural marriage provides the key trial for Dinah Kirkham and her friends. Much time is spent covering the internal conflicts present with living in polygamy. It is neither the great caving to lost that detractors had put in place, or a rose-colored relationship that apologists proclaim. For most people, there was a strong reluctance to abide by the principle of plural marriage, with a strong internal battle needed to adopt it.

This provides an excellent characterization of "real" Mormon pioneers. They are by no means perfect, yet many of them are trying hard. (Though there are plenty that are there for other reasons.) The Kirkham family makes great sacrifices for their faith and are rewarded with a joyous family life and a measure of posterity in the end. (However, the family they left behind also achieves significant success.) We see significant events that cause characters to grow and change. It does a great job of bringing alive the unfiltered struggles of those making great life changes.

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