Searching for Eternity by Elizabeth Musser grabbed me right away, kept me engaged throughout the book, and made me not want it to end while at the same time eager to know what finally happened with the characters.
The story begins in the 1960s with nearly fourteen year old Emile de Bonnery finding that he and his mother have to suddenly leave France, where they have been staying with his grandmother in her 13th century chateau. Though Emile’s French father has been away “on business” often, this time it’s different. His American mother tells him that his father has found someone else and they must leave France immediately to go back to her native Atlanta. Emile protests, to no avail, and barely keeps control over his anger.
Emile feels that his father is a spy, that he’s merely on a mission, and may even be in trouble. Emile’s father, Jean-Baptiste, had been in the French resistance as a teenager during WWII, along with his parents. On each of Emile’s birthdays since he was five, his father has given him a gift of something he used in his resistance days – a book with pages cut away in which to store a switchblade, a thumbtack tin that once held a radio, etc., and told him the story behind that particular item as well as stories of his experiences. Emile knew that his father particularly hated Klaus Barbie, the “butcher of Lyon,” who was responsible for killing multitudes, including national hero Jean Moulin and Emile’s father’s father. Barbie had been condemned to death in absentia, and it was Emile’s theory that his father was hunting for Barbie. But no one agreed with him.
Meanwhile, he has to get used to life in America, especially to starting a new school. Being small for his age, new, and having an accent all seem to make him a target for the class bullies and friendless. Finally at lunch he sits near a girl named Eternity Jones, who, though somewhat aloof, at least doesn’t rebuff him. Gradually they become friends, and Emile eventually learns that Eternity comes from a broken home with a drunken, abusive mother. Eternity acts as protector for her two younger siblings. Wanting to extend help as well as friendship, Emile invites Eternity and her brother and sister to his grandmother’s home.
His grandmother and mother had been estranged for the 15 years his mother had been in France, and she and Emile showed up on her doorstep with no advance warning when they first left France. His mother had told him that her mother was controlling and they didn’t get along, but she welcomed them both with kindness, and her home radiated peace. His mother notes that her mother has changed in many ways. His mother and grandmother both try to make their home a safe haven for Eternity and her siblings.
There is so much in this book, it’s hard to know what to share. The rest of the book covers the next 23 years of Emile’s life and touches on racism, abuse, bullying, being a victim, faith, second chances, as well as what happens to Eternity and her family, Emile’s father, and even Klaus Barbie. It ended just as I hoped it would, but the author kept me guessing until nearly the last few pages.
Here are a few quotes from the book:
The wrong kind of love grabs and holds and chokes and demands and expects.
It’s a lot harder to hate a whole race of people, like the Negroes, or a type of person, like alcoholics, when you start getting to know individuals. Prejudice likes to make generalizations and stay far away. I wanted to get to know [Eternity’s mother] before I judged her too harshly.
Grandma had always said that suffering etched character into God’s people, making them stronger, better, holier, more useful to God and man. I had believed her for many years, but I did not see it on this night.
“I know it seems wrong and cruel. But this is what you must do. Let go. Give up the control, Emile. Be mad, grieve, accept that you cannot figure it out. Give up.”
“Giving up is weakness!”
“This time it will be strength.”
“You must give up, not out of resignation, but out of trust. Trust that God knows and cares and will let you in on all the secrets you need to know in His time.”
There is more to life than looking for answers. Some answers you will never find–some you will. As long as the most important question is answered, the ‘not knowing’ of the others doesn’t seem so unbearable.
“The good thing about following Jesus is that His Word eventually seeps way down into your heart. And then, when you need to respond as He would, somehow that love blooms, watered by years of tears and tended by His Spirit. It blooms. Maybe not all at once, Emile. But eventually. He doesn’t waste your obedience. It counts. It works.” I said nothing, but I was listening, begging God to let her words–His words–penetrate my heart.
Victims could move on, but deep down they were still victims. Maybe there were parts of us that would never recover from the injuries of the past. And maybe that was all right, because we could still be useful in our maimed and injured state. ‘For when I am weak, then am I strong.’ I grabbed on to those words of the apostle Paul.
Elizabeth Musser’s being from Atlanta, being a missionary in France, and her teen boys being “third culture kids” all contribute to the realism in the book. The occasional mentions of eating at the Varsity in Atlanta have me questioning why I never went there the few years we lived in the area!
I don’t feel I have done this book justice at all, but I don’t want to say more about it and give too much away. So I’ll just say, it’s good. You should read it. It comes up occasionally on sale for the Kindle app. So far I have enjoyed all of Elizabeth Musser’s books, and I am eager to read more. And I am going to miss these characters!
(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)