4 out of 4 stars
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Most of us have prejudices about certain other people or groups of people, that we gain or have been taught throughout our lives. We may hold tightly on to our prejudice or may try to understand and accept others. Children of Covenant written by Fred Howard explores the pre-formed prejudices of individuals and communities and the process they go through to change these views. This book is categorized as Historical Fiction, and although it does refer to events of the past, the main story takes place in the present and I would categorize it as Other Fiction.
One of the main characters in this book is Ike Benheart. He is the minister of the Unitarian Church in his small conservative town of August Valley. In his church, he emphasizes the inclusion of all people, especially homosexuals. He is a fierce proponent of the gay rights movement. His staunch views on the subject arise from the experience of his cousin committing suicide, for not being accepted for being gay, in his community and church.
The second main character in the book is Ismael Hagarson, a political science lecturer at the University, but also a Muslim. He sits on the board of directors of the Muslim society which wishes to build a mosque in the town. However, being a conservative town, the members don’t seem very eager for a mosque to get built.
It all goes awry one day when Ismael receives news that the building that they were almost able to purchase, to convert into a mosque, would not be sold to them anymore. Being used to anti-Muslim sentiment, Ismael immediately comes to the conclusion that the reason the owner, Lee Street, pulled out of the deal was due to this prejudice. Furious at the turn of events, Ismael decides to speak to the owner in person to try and sort things out.
The next day, the owner, Lee Street, is found dead, hung by a rope, and supposedly Ismael was the last person to contact him. Immediately all suspicions turn to Ismael as the culprit. He is arrested and put in jail. However, when Minister Ike hears of the news his thoughts turn in another direction. Ike had recently had a visit from Street and from the discussion he had had with him, he suspected that Street was quite depressed and could possibly have committed suicide. Ike feels that he should give forward this information, but he has one problem. He doesn’t really like Muslims. Ike has a conflict of interest in whether he should be helping a Muslim. However, he does come forward, and in doing so, he takes the first steps in building a relationship with Ismael.
During their discussion in the jail, Ike discovers that his parents knew Ismael’s mother and that they had in fact helped her when she arrived with other refugees escaping from the war in Bangladesh. This intrigues him and pushes him to dig more into the past. He then discovers a much more complex story than he would ever had imagined.
This book allows the reader to examine the prejudices that they have towards others. It especially focuses on two groups of people who have been particularly ostracized or marginalized; these being Muslims and homosexuals. The book also addresses the issue of change and the ability and necessity of people to change their views.
The character of Ike was well crafted and in-depth. Although he was a minister who tries to be inclusive of all people, the author shows his weakness in that he still has prejudice towards certain groups which he tries to change. The one downside to the book, that I found was the emotional reactions of the characters. For example, when Ike receives life changing news he seems to take everything in his stride and has no great emotional outburst at the news. I found this reaction of his to be slightly strange and perhaps not representative of a real-life situation. The author of the book is a Unitarian minister thus it is probable that the character of Ike and his views may be centered around the author himself.
Overall I think the book deserves a 4 out of 4 stars. It was well edited, the characters were well formed and were able to change as the story progressed, and the story-line of the book was intriguing.
Truthfully, I had a bit of difficulty reading the book. It forced me to question my own prejudices that I had. However, as I progressed throughout the book I realized that I would need to think deeply about the views I held about certain groups of people and whether these views were valid. The author has obviously researched deeply for this book. I also learnt a lot about the history behind the Pakistan/ Bangladesh war. I had not known much about it before, but the author gives deep insight into the human tragedy that took place during those years.
Children of Covenant
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