I don’t remember where I saw The Silver Suitcase by Terrie Todd mentioned, but when it came up for a Kindle/Audible sale, I got it.
It begins with a young girl in Canada in the 1980s starting a school project with her grandmother about WWII. Part 1 features the grandmother, Cornelia’s, experiences at the end of the Depression and into the beginning of the war; Part 2 takes place in modern times with the granddaughter, Benita, grown and married with two children. In Part 3 Benita is given her grandmother’s old diaries and discovers much about her that she did not know. Throughout the latter parts, the scene jumps back and forth between Cornelia’s and Benita’s time frames, but it is not too confusing to follow since each chapter starts with the date.
Cornelia’s mother died when she was 12, and she had to quit school early to help her father run their farm. At a fairly young age she is doing everything a grown woman would do to maintain a household. She has never forgiven God for taking her mother so early, though she hides that fact from anyone else. Her diary is the only place she honestly pours out her heart. When she meets the son of her mother’s old friend, her life takes a turn for the better. But a tragedy and a momentous secret drive her to the point of desperation.
Benita’s husband has been out of work for some time, and the strain is wearing on their marriage. A series of losses, especially that of her grandmother, and a new opportunity for the family only add to the strain. Her mother gives her a silver suitcase that her grandmother wanted her to have. Besides several mementos, it contains decades worth of her grandmother’s old diaries. Benita learns of a side of her grandmother that she never knew and can hardly fathom: how can her sweet-faith-filled grandmother have ever been so vitriolic in her hatred of God?
The story is a good one, and there were several little touches I liked.A couple of my favorite lines:
Neither the why answers nor the how answers will satisfy your heart. One day, you will have both. But even if you could grasp them now, they would not heal your wounds. Only love can do that. And God loves you more than you can ever understand or imagine.
But most of the time, his words soothed her. It reminded her of her childhood, when she had come in crying with a skinned knee. How good it felt when her mother washed it off, pulled her onto her lap, carefully applied ointment to the knee, and gently rocked her to sleep. Although the cleansing stung, it was wonderful to feel so loved and cherished.
But one part was a major red flag to me.
This is the second book I’ve read recently involving somebody meeting their guardian angel. I hope it’s not becoming a trend. I can see it occasionally as a plot device (a la It’s a Wonderful Life), when the audience knows the writer isn’t really intending us to believe that this happened.
But in Christian fiction, it feels like cheating in a sense. Many might like a heavenly messenger to come down and tell us in person what God wants us to know and be able to ask him questions, but it’s far from likely. I think it would be more helpful and meaningful to show the character discovering spiritual truth through the Bible or a Christian friend. I know that’s not as dramatic, but it’s more realistic.
Nevertheless, I can live with an angel as part of a story, though it’s not my favorite. But there is an emphasis on Cornelia’s looking in his eyes that I find kind of disturbing, as if that’s somehow more reassuring than anything else:
When Cornelia looked directly into his eyes she could see that he spoke the truth. No one had ever looked at her like that.
She believed in a creator, and she believed in Jesus. She had found it difficult to accept that he loved her. But now, looking into this messenger’s face, there was no denying that fact.
Now, having looked into the eyes of Aziel, she saw things so much differently.
But worst of all, she writes much later in her diary, “I maintain my friendship with Jesus by talking to him daily…I read my Bible, too, but it’s still my experience of last December, of actually having his messenger beside me, which sustains me.”
The apostle Peter had one of the most marvelous experiences ever, something which only two others shared, when they saw Jesus glorified before their eyes. But after describing it, he said: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 19-21). God’s Word is more sure than even the most exalted religious experience.
Thankfully the author does have Cornelia sharing spiritual truth later in the book. Cornelia doesn’t tell anyone about this experience. It’s just sad to me that that’s what “sustains” her.
I also disagreed with a section where someone says, “Jesus comes in all shapes and sizes. You need to learn to see him in every pair of eyes you lock onto.” True, we’re all made in God’s image, and Jesus said whatever we have done “unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:31-46). I think the truth of either of these two passages would have made a stronger case for what the author is trying to say in this section, and probably that’s what she means by seeing Jesus in every pair of eyes. But Jesus isn’t actually in every person we meet. The distinction is made in several places in the Bible. Just one example: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (I John 5:12).
So, I obviously have mixed emotions about this one. The story was fairly interesting, but due to some of the other issues, I probably won’t be seeking out this author again.
Genre: Inspirational fiction
My rating: for the story itself, maybe a 7 out of 10, but due to the theological problems, a 5 out of 10.
(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carol‘s Books You Loved )