Account Home About Us Contact Us
Get email updates! Sign-up for the QuakerBooks eNewsletter, Book Musings.
Download the catalog
Book List:Basic QuakerismCorporate Discernment
BY MARGARET HOPE BACON
Margaret Hope Bacon, author of many Quaker related books, brings us a poignant and courageous tale of an elderly, but active, Quaker woman coming to terms with her own mortality in the final year of her life. The author has created a truly inspirational character whose spiritual life, based on a strong Quaker foundation, is reflected at the culmination of her earthly life in a remarkable 'year of grace.' "Beautifully written, this story of a spirit and action-filled last adventure will speak to many conditions, from that of us "oldies" nearing the end of our own journey, to that of the 'youngies' just finding the trail. Bacon reminds us all how adventurous old age can be!"-Boulding
Quaker Press of FGC 2002 200 PP. Paper
Some very special traditions of Quaker activism are brought to life in Margaret Hope Bacon’s moving account of a Quaker grandmother who at 76 learns she has a year left to live. In the unlikely setting of a winterized summer cabin, coping with bodily weakness and pain, Faith weaves her year of grace into a rich tapestry of local activism and extended family togetherness as she minds the light and mends the wold right up to the end. Beautfully written, this story of a spirit- and action-filled last adventure will speak to many conditions, from that of us “oldies” nearing the end of our own journey, to that of the “youngies” just finding the trail. Bacon reminds us all how adventurous old age can be!
—Elise Boulding, author of Cultures of Peace and One Small Plot of Heaven
Margaret Hope Bacon and I share an affection for the South Jersey Pine Barrens, the Quaker community that once summered there and, in particular, its strong Quaker women. She has brought that community back to life in the chronicles of Faith Smedley’s year on Swallow Creek. While joining the local community she had never known as a summer visitor, Faith immerses herself in her Quaker ancestor’s journals and from that grows “a little excited about dying.” Year of Grace makes us think and see, and smile and weep; it makes us grateful for Faith and grace.
—Lady Borton, author of After Sorrow
When I try to help untangle the subtleties of Quaker faith and practice for my students at Haverford College and Pendle Hill, I often make an oversimplified distinction between “Quakerism” and “Quakerliness,” the former having more to do with theology and faith, the latter referring more to some stylized habits and behaviors adopted by many Friends to provide outward evidence of theology and faith: patterns of dress and consumption, language, political positions, and the like.
Often I assign fiction about Quakers and Quaker life to stimulate discussion about these concepts. Next time I teach, however, I will surely steer my students to Margaret Hope Bacon’s new novel-yes, novel!—Year of Grace, for it catches the essence of both Quakerism and Quakerliness.
The many readers who know and admire Margaret Hope Bacon as a deeply committed historian of Friends can now see her command of another genre. In this first work of fiction, she concentrates and personalizes both Quakerism and Quakerliness in the person of Faith Smedley, who is navigating her way through the final year of her life. One could imagine that a story about the approach of death might be off-putting, but this novel is not just about death. Rather, its verbal snapshots of Delaware Valley Friends lives can hdp us contemplate where Quakers are today, some of how we got here, and the challenges-including death-as we sort out Quaker faith from stereotypical Quaker behaviors.
In a delicate, witty, tender, and beautifully nuanced narrative, Margaret Hope Bacon tackles marriage, infidelity, politics, inter- and intra-family tensions, dress and consumption habits among Friends, environmentalism, class and racial prejudice among Friends, the international work of American Friends Service Committee, faith, and physical pain. She does this with amazing nimbleness, creating a story that is at once a graceful and wide-ranging and a dramatic page-turner. Historians usually have little practice in writing dialogue, yet she has somehow caught just the right cadence, giving her characters totally believable conversation as they confront a collage of international war and injustice, violence and social myopia in their own community, as well as love, anger, spirituality, and family celebrations in their private lives.
The novel, which is framed by the Vietnam War and the events of the late 1960s, is intertwined with the changes of the seasons and the marking of Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the spring thaw, while also focusing on the complex humanity and spiritual growth of one woman and her commitment to live life to the fullest, even as she sees it waning before her.
Margaret Hope Bacon’s loyal following, as well as those who haven’t yet discovered her, have a treat in store.
Review by Emma Lapsansky. Emma Lapsansky, a member of Lansdowne (Pa.) Meeting and curator of the Quaker Collection at Haverford College, also teaches Quakerism courses there and at Pendle Hill. Her book, Quaker Aesthetics, co-edited with Anne Verplanck, has recently been published by University of Pennsylvania Press.
“A Year of Grace” opens with 76-year-old Faith Smedley waking up in the hospital. She has just come through an operation to remove a cancerous tumour from her stom¬ach. She soon discovers she has about a year to live. Faith, a birth¬right Quaker from Haverford, is not one to indulge in fear or self-pity. She says to her doctor, “I want to do this thing, this finishing, as well as I know how. There are so many places I want to visit and so many people I want to see. I want to plan my time very carefully.”
As Faith sets out to revisit her past, we learn she was active in the American Friends Service Committee during World War Two, and we get a glimpse of what that experience was like. She also decides to read through some letters she’s inherited, which were writ¬ten by her early Quaker ancestors. These end up being more interest¬ing than she had anticipated. She begins to compare her life to some of her more stalwart relations.
Faith’s children and grandchil¬dren come and go throughout the book, too. The time is 1969, and her family mirrors the political spectrum of that era. We sense the background tension concerning Vietnam, and the unease associated with a life of privilege in a world filled with poverty.
Faith decides to upgrade the family cottage, located in a Quaker enclave, and spend the winter there with a close friend. She hopes for peace and quiet. As it turns out, she’s faced with a situation involv¬ing the village’s mistreatment of migrant workers. She’s tempted to look the other way, not sure she has the strength to engage in a new struggle. Her friends advise her to let it go but, of course, her con¬science won’t rest until she’s taken some action.
This is a gentle straightforward book, which opens us to impor¬tant issues. There is much Quaker language, a bit of history, some teachings, and a challenge or two. Perhaps what I enjoyed the most about the book is the way the author caused me to imagine what it would be like if I knew I was see¬ing or experiencing something for the last time. For instance, the last Christmas dinner with the family, the last apple blossoms, or the last paddle in the canoe. I was remind¬ed to notice the grace that fills my life, and to give thanks.
Linda Foy is a member of New Brunswick Monthly Meeting.
Posted by QuakerBooks on October 20, 2006 10:35 AM
Remember personal info?
Typekey helps us streamline the commenting process for visitors who regularly post book reviews and feedback. By signing into QuakerBooks using your TypeKey account, we can authorize you to post comments and have them appear immediately.
If you haven't left a comment here before, our staff will need to approve your comment before it appears.