4 out of 4 stars
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In a late Nineteenth Century coal mining town, few people could understand how a marriage between a certain reverend and his wife could work. Reverend Morgan Humphrey Jones was a quiet man, devoted to chapel ministry. His wife, Margaret Ann, was a forceful and ambitious woman who didn’t particularly like attending chapel. What’s more, raising their nine children in an area stricken with poverty would be no easy task. The challenge of their lives together and the endurance of their family comes alive in Bread and Heaven: A Family Chronicle from Rhondda Valley by author S.E. Taylor.
Upon my first glimpse of the title and cover of this book, it immediately registered in my mind as nonfiction, a biography. When I came back to look again, I saw the book was actually categorized as historical fiction, so I picked it up. Once I started reading, I found that the book is indeed a true chronicle. Using family anecdotes recorded by her mother, memories from her other relatives, and some creative license, the author has written a biographical account that reads like a novel.
The writing is dense, detailed, and steadily paced, with pages of family photographs that strengthen the sense of time and place. This is not the type of book that one is likely to rush or breeze through. There are some parts that may appeal to biography readers more than fiction readers looking for a more heavily plot-driven story. Still, the density and detail allow the reader to become quite familiar with the Jones family. By the time I finished the book, I felt like I’d gotten well-acquainted with the Joneses and with life in their valley.
Margaret Ann, the author’s great-grandmother, is the unrivaled backbone of this story. She has a no-nonsense, commanding presence. I thought her to be too pushy and controlling at times, virtually steamrolling over the will of anyone in her path, especially her family members. Yet, it’s clear that nothing means more to her than the welfare of her loved ones, and she has heart. She keeps that heart in check beneath her strength, so when any signs of need or vulnerability peek through, those signs are all the more impactful. The book’s fitting title is derived from Margaret Ann’s sentiments, and it’s a wonderful descriptor of her marriage to Morgan.
There’s a momentous change concerning Morgan’s vocation that I would’ve liked to see unfold in real time, as many of the other scenes do. Because his decision is pivotal to his life as a reverend, I thought it deserved a pivotal scene with dialogue instead of a summary. There are also some spacing and punctuation errors within the book’s dialogue and at the end of sentences. However, the errors are relatively few, and they aren’t so jarring that they disrupt the story.
Even with its minor weaknesses, this is an inspiring account of purpose and dedication, woven into history. Overall, I give Bread and Heaven a rating of 4 out of 4 stars. Biography and historical fiction readers alike can appreciate the author’s creative portrayal of her family’s dynamics, their trials, and their successes.
Bread and Heaven
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