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The Covenant (ISBN 0-7642-2330-5) and The Betrayal (ISBN 0-7642-2331-3)

By Beverly Lewis
Review by: Zsofia Anna Toth


I have to say I really had a hard time reading these books, and now, it is even harder for me to write this book review on Beverly Lewis’s The Covenant and The Betrayal. To write this book review is difficult for me because the experience of reading these novels was a really disappointing one, although it had seemed to be a promising venture. The author has written a number of books and is the winner of several awards, plus, she is said to be an “expert” of Amish life. These pieces of information, together with the subject matter of the books, and the initial aim of the story, with the promise of a real “true” story about Amish life all seemed to be a wonderful-gut idea (to adopt the author’s own words). However, except the true depiction of Amish life (which I have to admit, I do not know much), the author failed to “fulfill her promises.”

I would like to quote Lisa Ann Cockrel, a previous reviewer of The Betrayal, as follows: “Uninitiated and more critical readers of the book may chaff against an overabundance of colloquial language (redd, Dat, ach, wonderful-gut, jah), the idealized presentation of the Plain life, and thinly drawn characters. Much of the dialogue and inner thought of the characters seem highly contrived, like soliloquies of earnest actors in a drama about an Amish life they only know about through movies”*. In fact, the problem is much more serious than what this citation (see below for all info) attempts to imply.

First of all, Cockrel had worries about the language usage in the novel. In my view, that would not have been a real problem since there have been books written in colloquial language still of high quality; what is more, the usage of terms and expressions in Pennsylvania Dutch was actually a good idea. Yet, the hyper idyllic depiction of the Plain life (an utopia could have been more realistic and true to life) and the “hardly-existing” characters had much more to do with ruining the story. Furthermore, the reviewer’s mentioning the idea of actors and movies is somewhat closer to the truth because this story, actually, gives you the impression that you are reading a written soap opera with Amish characters (which is a rather odd image).

As Roland Barthes says in his study entitled The Death of the Author, the modern author is being born together with his work. If the author of this/these book(s) was born together with her work(s), then, it might happen that “she has problems with existence.” In From Work to Text, Barthes claims that the text is connected to jouissance. Where is it to be found in this case? These texts do not provide jouissance. They are not of a rewarding kind.

The story is actually unstructured; it is only an unbridled stream of thoughts. It does not have a real concept. The two novels do not have a whole structure either; they flow into each other. The story is just flowing-flowing and does not arrive anywhere. The basic idea would have been great-- how to cope with “the temptations of the world” in an Amish community-- but the end result does not seem to manage to reach deep ends, to create real conflicts, to depict real human reactions. The idea ends up solely stirring the surface as if it does not dare “plunge into deep water.” The problems in the novels are very serious, such as childbearing out of wedlock in a rigid religious community or choosing the right spouse or whether to keep weighty secrets, still, these serious problems are not handled as such; they do not open up, they do not develop, they do not get solved, the reader ends up only dragging them through the hundreds of pages.

The characters do not improve either; these characters are so flat that not even a road-roller could have been able to make them flatter. They think sometimes, or even struggle with anxiety, though, it is not really credulous, but the main problem is that they never improve. They stagnate just like their lives. Nevertheless, there would not be a problem with writing about “the stagnation of life,” yet somehow, Samuel Beckett succeeded in writing a much more “successful” work about it.

Thus, Abram’s daughters: Sadie, Leah, Hannah and Mary Ruth Ebersol, but not even Dat, Mamma, or at least Aunt Lizzie (who could have been a promising character) do not really have life, do not really have character, do not really take part in anything, do not really live anything and do not really achieve anything. (And the same could be said about all the other characters.)

However, if the aim of both books was to show the lifelessness of the Plain life (what I personally cannot believe), it succeeded.

*(Lisa Ann Cockrel, Review, THE BETRAYAL (Abram's Daughters, Book 2), in Faithful Readers.com, Available: http://www.faithfulreader.com/reviews/0764223313.asp, Accessed: 11/30/04)

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