A Noble Groom, Jody Hedlund's latest novel, is an insightful look into German immigration to Michigan in the 1880's, as well as a sweet romance. Accurate in the mindset and tradition of the immigrants, the story also allows the characters to expand in character and conviction as they learn to adapt to a new land.
Although he is a man of faith, Carl is also the indulged son of a baron, unaccustomed to labor, want, or any other unpleasantness from which money can shield him. When he is wrongly accused of murder, not even his father's money will spare him from punishment, though it is just enough to send him far away from Germany to the kinfolk of his servant, who have been extremely bitter toward the baron ever since the death of the eldest son. Not knowing his true identity, they accept him out of sheer desperation to help Annalisa save her farm, at least until her new groom arrives. As the weeks stretch into months while waiting for him, Carl keeps postponing his departure for a professorship in Chicago, unwilling to leave Annalisa without the help she so desperately needs.
From a naive, privileged scholar of the German barony, Carl grows into a man of strength and character. For all that he initially looks down on the peasants with whom he must hide, he learns to respect them and earns their respect in return - not as the son of a baron, but as a man in his own right, learning to work in spite of initial ignorance and working hard in spite of initial physical weakness. In learning the value of hard physical labor, he reaps the blessings that go with it: accomplishment, empowerment, and a contented simplicity.
Although she has never suffered the physical abuse her sister Idette receives from her husband, newly widowed Annalisa has also never received love or respect from the men in her life. As a woman and therefore without rights of her own, she is little more than a piece of property to be managed by whichever man is currently ruling her life - first her father, then her husband, and then her father again when her husband is killed. Annalisa has a backbone - she fiercely fights for her rights and children's safety against the man who threatens them over her land - but she does not know how to stand up against her father for her desires, when tradition dictates that she has no choice in her marriage. Though she fiercely protects her children, she feels she is insignificant and unworthy of regard.
Hedlund focuses on God's love for the insignificant, for the unloved, for the abandoned. Matthew 6:26 says, "Look
at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into
barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value
than they?" In learning to be cherished by Carl, her soft-hearted, child-loving field hand, Annalisa also learns that God cares for her too, that He wants to provide for her, and that He wants to save her - she is a valuable daughter of the Most High. And once Annalisa has learned to be valued, there is no going to back to an existence that is, at best, a lukewarm marriage where her husband barely tolerates her. She can accept no less than to love and be loved in return.
I felt that I knew the main characters very well by the end of the story; though they stretched and grew, their voices remained true to character. In my middle class righteousness, I was a bit annoyed with Carl's whining early on, but it was understandable for who he was, and besides, he got over himself fairly quickly. I could relate to Annalisa; as an obedient daughter, I would have a very difficult time going against my father's wishes. Thankfully, I have been blessed with a dad who allowed me to make my own decisions and respected them. The message of God's love for the insignificant was something of which, especially in this world where production and corporations are more important than people, I think everyone needs a reminder, including myself. It is so easy to feel lost and forgotten in all our busyness.
I received a free copy from Bethany House Publishing in exchange for an honest review; the opinions are my own, and I was not obligated to write a positive review.