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Katharina, Katharina: the story of Katharina Schutz Zell

by Christine Farenhorst
328 pages / 2017

In the past year, inspired by the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing up his 95 theses (or did he?) I’ve read about a dozen works on Luther. This is a favorite.

One reason I love it so, is because it offers something very different from the others – this about is Luther and his time, but he isn’t the main character. He isn’t even a minor character, never making an in-story appearance. The events take place miles away from Luther’s Wittenberg, in the French city of Strasbourg, on the border with Germany. The story centers around a middle daughter of the middle-class Schutz family. Like their neighbors, the Schutz’s read and discuss Luther’s pamphlets.

By taking a step back from the man himself, author Christine Farenhorst (as regular RP readers will know, she is a long-time contributor to the magazine) give her readers the opportunity to encounter Luther’s ideas in much the same way as the people of his time did. They didn’t debate his ideas at the start, so much as wonder what to think of them. Some of his points they could readily agree with – many saw a need for at least some sort of reformation of the Church. But his thoughts on indulgences… might he be right?

We follow the title character from childhood up until her mid-twenties. Though Katharina Schutz is a real person, this is historical fiction – all the big events are true, but the day-to-day details of Katharina’s life have been made up. This is why, even as a background character, Luther still dominates the story. Katharina’s life is fascinating reading but because much of it is speculative, it serves as the foundation while what we learn about Luther here is his real, actual history.

One of the strangest bits of true history in the book is the dancing plague of 1518 that hit Strasbourg. Victims couldn’t help but dance. It would have been funny except that this stilted, clumsy dancing never stopped – as many as 400 dancers kept going for days and days, beyond exhaustion, and even to the point of heart attacks and strokes.

Target audience

This is a teen to young adult book, but like any good children’s book, adults interested in their church history will find it fascinating. However, as a third of all children at that time died before they hit age 5, there are some parts to Katharina’s story that would be bawl-inducing to anyone under, say, 10.

The somewhat slow beginning – it took until chapter 4 to really grab me – also makes it better suited for readers with a little maturity to them.

Conclusion

There is a real benefit to learning about Luther in this one-step-removed fashion. I was fascinated by what I learned about the people and culture of that time. It gave me a deeper understanding of the pressures that Luther faced, and insights into how God prepared the ground for the Reformation Luther sparked. It is a fascinating story that I look forward to reading with my daughters.

This review first appeared on ReallyGoodReads.com.

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WHO IS THIS FOR?

Ages 16-116, single or married, children or no children, these presentations are suitable for all mature Christians.

WHEN AND WHERE?

Edmonton: April 19 at 7:30 pm at Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church

Barhead: April 20 at 7:30 pm at Emmanuel United Reformed Church

Ponoka: April 22 at 7:30 pm at Parkland Reformed Church

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Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

The New Has Come

by Christine Farenhorst 2022 / 262 pages I've seen another reviewer suggest that this might be Christine Farenhorst's best book yet, and I think I might agree. Linnet is a five-year-old Dutch girl who, we discover, knows absolutely nothing about God. Her ignorance is so profound that when the Nazis invade, and an occupying soldier tells little Linnet about the wonderful family that "God has given" him, she wonders, Who is this God he is talking about? and Is God German For our own children, who may take always knowing God for granted, it will be eye-opening to follow what it's like, and how wonderful it is, for someone to be introduced to God for the first time. Linnet has the same wonderings any kid might have, but her wartime experiences also have her asking deeper questions, including a child's version of "God are you really there?" I had to figure to what age category to share this review, and picked "Children's Fiction," but The New Has Come is that rare sort that has appeal for all ages. The World War II setting and charming protagonist will grab your children; moms and dads will appreciate Linnet's questions and the opportunities they present to talk about God with our kids, and grandparents will get more than a little misty-eyed at just how beautifully this tale is told. I could not recommend it more highly! Christine Farenhorst is a columnist for Reformed Perspective. so if you don't already know her writing you can get a good taste of her writings by looking at her many articles posted on the website. And for a taste of the book itself, you can find the first chapter at the Amazon.ca listing here. ...