Anna Konig has no desire to leave the small community she grew up in to travel to the New World, but since she’s one of the few church members who can speak English, she has little choice but to accompany those who are taking the trecherous journey across the sea to America. Initially Anna hopes that the journey will be short, and that she can quickly return to Europe via another ship, but just getting onboard a boat is difficult enough. Anna attempts to navigate the intricacies of purchasing passage for all the members of their party, ensuring that they have enough food and water for the voyage, and determining how best to transport all of their belongings. The only English-speaking member of the group, Anna quickly learns that her people are dubbed “Peculiars”, and while not terribly well-respected, they are welcome onboard most ships providing that they can pay for the journey. Anna’s group aren’t the only Peculiars making this trip, and the majority of the passengers onboard the Charming Nancy are from similar communities.
Bairn, the Scottish carpenter of the Charming Nancy, has no desire to mingle with the Peculiars from the Lower Deck, but one young boy keeps getting into trouble with the sailors. Bairn is forced to confront the one English-speaker out of the group to address the issues about Felix, and in doing so, quickly learns about the difficulties the passengers are facing—overcrowded and leaky sleeping quarters, an inability to properly launder clothes, and unbearable smells. All Bairn wants to do is make enough money to have a ship of his own one day, but he’s drawn towards Anna and the peaceful nature of her people. As their journey to the New World stretches on and the passengers face sickness and are forced to make sacrifices, Bairn is challenged by the actions of the Peculiars. Does his future really lie at sea, or somewhere new? Is he drawn to Anna by mere human attraction, or because she reminds of someone from his hazy, forgotten childhood?
I’ve long been a fan of Amish fiction, and I’m always interested when an author finds a way to bring something new to the genre.
I’ve enjoyed Suzanne Woods Fisher’s more traditional Amish novels, but I haven’t been able to keep up with all of her recent releases. Too many books, too little time, right? When I heard that she was writing a novel about some of the first Amish settlers to travel to the New World, and one that featured a Scottish character, I knew I had to make the time to read it. I love learning about the history of the Anabaptists, but I haven’t read that many books set in the early eighteenth century, or ones that cover the original settlers. And of course, I have to see how well any author depicts her Scottish characters!
Even if you’re not a history geek, you’re sure to be entertained by the descriptions of life onboard a ship in 1737. I didn’t know a lot about sea travel during this period, but Suzanne quickly made me feel as if I was on the Charming Nancy along with Anna and Bairn. The journey to the New World wasn’t pleasant or easy, as Suzanne herself details in her Author’s Note. I quickly determined that the decision to leave Europe wasn’t one made lightly, given how easy it was to succumb to disease, and how many ships arrived in America with significantly less passengers than they had when they departed. Although ships tried to stock as much food and water as necessary, there were often unexpected delays due to unpredictable weather. These people were brave, and I don’t know if I would have been on that boat if I’d had the choice. I could relate to Anna’s desire to stay at home with her grandparents, with everything that was familiar to her.
Having read Suzanne’s Author’s Note, I’ve learned that it’s probably unrealistic that so many members of Anna’s party arrived in the New World. Statistically, not so many would have survived the journey, with many succumbing to illnesses due to the unsanitary and cramped living conditions.
Although I sympathise with Suzanne’s explanation that it’s difficult to write a hopeful novel when sticking to the facts of such a difficult situation, the historian in me knows that this book isn’t entirely accurate, and that the realities of life on-board such a ship in this time period were neatened up for the sake of making the story easier to read for the more sensitive readers.
There are a lot of fantastic historical details in this book, but the fact is, far more people would have died. It’s not a nice fact, or a pretty one, but it’s true. If you’re a die-hard historian, you might not be able to get past this.
Initially I wasn’t sure why Suzanne chose to tell parts of the story from Felix’s point of view, but it quickly became apparent that he provided insight that Anna and Bairn couldn’t. While Bairn struggled with his feelings of uneasiness towards the Peculiars, and Anna tried to overcome seasickness and help her fellow passengers, Felix explored the ship and introduced the reader to the realities of life on-board a ship. He also provided a little humour and light relief, which offset some of the less savoury aspects of the journey. By the end of the book, I was sad to say goodbye to Felix.
Bairn and Anna’s relationship didn’t strike me as particularly unusual in the world of romance, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t sweet. Felix kept pushing them together, and Anna’s outspokenness and stubbornness gave a reasonable explanation for why Anna was determined to keep communicating with Bairn, even if he was an outsider and disapproved of by her community.
Anna isn’t your typical, shy Amish girl, which I appreciated. Having to be the spokesperson for her community, it wouldn’t have made sense for her to be reserved.
I don’t want to give too much away about Bairn, but I will say that there is a twist relating to a secret about Bairn’s past. I guessed the twist about halfway through the book, based on a simple comment from one of the other characters. I’m not sure if other readers would also have picked up on this clue (I had watched a lot of Castle episodes that week while my little one was ill, so maybe I was just in the right mindset!) Since I figured out the twist, it felt a little bit predictable, but not too much. I was happy for Bairn once he revealed his secret and was able to resolve his problems.
While Anna’s Crossing isn’t quite as dark as some might expect, given the subject matter, it is rich in historical detail and contains a heart-warming and hopeful story of a turbulent time in Anabaptist history. Perhaps it may even convinced some hardcore Historical fans to dip into the Amish genre from time to time. I’ll certainly be looking forward to the next volume in the Amish Beginnings series.