Publisher: Free Magic Show Productions (July 4, 2016)
Category: Historical Fiction
Tour Dates: Oct/Nov, 2016
Available in: Print & Ebook; 276 Pages, The Brothers Path
By award-winning author, Martha Kennedy.
The world-shattering tumult of the Protestant Reformation enters the Schneebeli household when Rudolf Schneebeli is born two months early and dies a few minutes later without being baptized. Named for the well trodden track linking the Schneebeli farmhouse to the old Lunkhofen castle, The Brothers Path is set in a Swiss village near Zürich, between 1524 and 1531. It chronicles the lives of the six Schneebeli brothers, Heinrich, Hannes, Peter, Conrad, Thomann and Andreas. Each brother navigates his own path through, around or directly into the deadly drama of the Protestant reformation.
Two hundred years after the events recounted in The Brothers’ Path, thousands of immigrants, mostly Mennonites and Amish, left Switzerland for America looking for safety and freedom they could not find at home. If the novel teaches a “lesson” it would be a reminder why immigrants to America were adamant about separating church and state.
I love history, yet somehow in my reading, I missed this critical period in European history.
Of course I knew about the Reformation, but I never imagined it as a particularly bloody period. I knew there had considerable strife and struggles between the Roman Catholic church which had ruled the Christian world since the end of the Roman Empire, and the nascent protestant faiths. Yet I had never given much thought to the impact these world-altering events had on the lives of people living through them.
Martha Kennedy’s beautifully written book brought me a close and personal understanding of how the disintegration of the Roman religious hierarchy was the central event of its time. It affected everyone living, from the most humble to the most high. It was not merely the change in what people believed, but what they were required to believe — or at least act as if they believed. Life could not go on as it had.
Dissenters from the new order are hunted and killed, yet the old order is not without resources or power. And so there is war. A personal, ugly, close-fought war that tears families apart.
The Schneebeli family is one of many families that has descended from nobility to would ultimately be considered “middle” class. Landowners still, they must work hard to survive. They have mills. Horses. A crumbling tower to remind them of former glory, for whatever it is worth and it is not worth much. They retain considerable standing in their village in Switzerland as well as a strong sense of obligation and duty towards their neighbors.
As issues of faith and religion dominate their world, the family needs considerable agility to dodge and weave through an increasingly dangerous world. Peter, the warrior brother, is seeking a path that will not bring him into direct (and probably lethal) conflict with his family and friends. Hans, the monk, wants to continue to serve his people … and have a family, too. The Reformation offers him a path to be both — what he has been and what he wants to be.
For each brother, there is a road to walk … and whichever path they choose, it is fraught with danger.
To whatever degree religion in today’s world is a hot button issue, it cannot compare with the intensity or emotion stirred up as the indestructible Church, the linchpin of European Christianity for a millennium, ruptures.
This is a book about history and religion. War that is personal, close, intimate, and unavoidable. Love that finds a way despite the tumult of the times. Families that stick together. Lives saved, lives ruined. It paints a clear picture of why religion and government should always remain separate. When churches rule, people die. When personal belief is a legal mandate and defying it is worth your life, society cannot thrive.
At the bottom of it all, aside from the battles and painful changes to life, the book is about people going about their business, living, loving, and surviving. The characters are resilient. They take their losses and they move on — because that’s what real people do. Through it all, they find a reasonable amount of happiness.
If this sounds like it might be depressing, it isn’t. The world may be a mess, but Martha Kennedy’s characters are sensible, educated, grounded people who make intelligent decisions. The winds of change and war buffet them, but they never lose their commonsense or belief in themselves. I found it refreshing to meet a group of characters who behaved like smart, civilized people, even in the midst of violent change and occasionally, near chaos.
This isn’t a lightweight romp, but it is not a grim slog from misery to misery, either. There are losses. There are victories. Good times and bad, sorrow and joy. Real people living in a challenging and complicated period of history … and making the best of what life offers. It’s a highly readable book that keeps you interested from start to finish.
It’s well worth reading. I only wish it had been longer.