Strength to Endure is one of those rare and startling books that portrays heartbreaking violence and pain while leaving the reader refreshed and filled with hope. I approached this book with reluctance, feeling today’s headlines and tragedies provide me with enough gloomy reading that I didn’t need to revisit the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. I came away feeling I had found another Corrie Ten Boom.
Right from the start Tristi Pinkston draws the reader in with family-like intimacy. She writes of a little girl, Anneliese Klein, who is more interested in potato bugs than politics. With her, we worry about older brothers who have always spoiled and loved her, but are now changing into vicious strangers who bicker with their father and sneak out at night to meet their friends. Their handsome, arrogant friend who pays too much attention to little Anneliese, frightens us. As does the violence and hate these young men and others in the rural farming community direct toward their Jewish neighbors and anyone who is different or who stands up for those who are different.
When Anneliese’s best friend and later her father disappear, there are still chores to do, farm animals and crops to care for, and dreams to dream – even though her brothers have run off to join Hitler’s army and she’s the only one left to help her mother. As she grows older, she and her mother isolate themselves as much as possible, not knowing who can be trusted and fearing the fate that has been rumored to have befallen other attractive young women with Anneliese’s blonde hair and blue eyes.
Two significant events bring happiness and hope into Anneliese’s life. A stranger takes shelter with them for a few days and leaves his most priceless possession, a copy of the Book of Mormon, in their keeping when he leaves. And a young man who suffers from a genetic disability, which precludes his forced entry into Hitler’s army, arrives at a neighboring farm to help his uncle.
With Anneliese, we experience all that is the worst of humanity. We also experience the transformation of ordinary people into saints and heroes as they transcend hate and ugliness by placing other people’s lives and welfare above their own wants and needs, even when their actions bring death. We witness the love between a mother and her child, see one who has little of redeeming value in her life sacrifice the little she has and risk her own life to save a stranger’s child, and we see the pettiness and degradation of those who choose evil, bigotry, and the selfish pursuit of power over God’s laws and humanity toward others.
Along with the shattered families who can seemingly never be put back together again, we find the rewards of faith and hope for the future passed on by those who have the strength to endure. We see small miracles that bring about changed lives. And we see survivors who go on in faith, even as they choose not to forget the sacrifices made in the past. Most of all, this is a book whose story continues even after the last page has been read. There is a lingering warmth from a reminder that with all devastation the adversary can dish out, our Creator endowed the human spirit with the ability to conquer all by enduring to the end.
Pinkston has done a number of things well in this novel. She has magnified the horror of Hitler’s mesmerizing influence over his countrymen by allowing the reader to view him through the eyes of an innocent child. In another novel the abrupt changes of point-of-view she uses several times would damage the continuity, but in this case it serves to emphasize the shock element at those crucial points. She has done extensive research and even provides a bibliography, but her work flows smoothly and I was not left feeling anything was inserted to merely make use of that research.
I wasn’t completely comfortable with her backtracking to provide background for a couple of characters near the end of the book, but neither was I bothered with it enough to consider it a serious flaw. I was bothered by the book’s cover. Though beautiful, it does nothing to catch attention. In fact the title disappears into the art work and is difficult to read.
All in all, I highly recommend this remarkable book.
Strength to Endure, by Tristi Pinkston
Published by Granite Publishing, 256 pages, $14.95