“Mom… there’s this guy at church. His name is Kevin HAVOC!!! Can you believe it? His poor wife.”
“Mom! Remember Kevin Havoc? The quiet, shy guy at church? Guess what his nickname is? Mayhem! Isn’t that like calling a giant of a dude, ‘tiny?’”
The day eventually came. “Hey, Mom. Kevin Havoc? Yeah. It’s not Havoc. It’s HAVE-ig. What a let down.”
That was late 1987.
A year and a half later, I walked in to meet my new obstetrician, not happy to need a new one, by the way, and in came Dr. Sweet. Seriously. That was his name. Full red beard and a smile to reassure any teen mom that life was going to be okay. *note: that was sarcasm. Beards were not my friend.
He glanced at his clipboard and said, “Havig. That’s Norwegian, right?”
I blinked. People usually thought it was Haah-VEEG. Middle Eastern. “Yeah.”
“You know, there were two Havig families in Norway. They lived on each side of a lake. One was wealthy… the other not so much. But they intermarried and eventually came to the US. Settled in Iowa and Minnesota.”
I blinked. Again. I’d never heard any of that. And this was long before the days of the internet and “the Google” (as my mom calls it).
But when I went out to tell my husband what had happened, he nodded. “Yeah. That’s right. Wonder how he knew?”
To this day, I don’t know how.
Because, well, I never thought to ask. I know… I know…
About five or six years later, Lauraine Snelling began writing the Red River Valley series. Mrs. Snelling lives not far from me, you know. I digress. Anyway, she wrote about Norwegians in North Dakota. I loved those books. I loved learning more about my husband’s heritage… ish.
So, with all that behind us, it shouldn’t be any wonder that when I read the synopsis of Sons of Blackbird Mountain, I’d be eager to read it. In fact, a couple of people said, “Oh, well your grandkids call you ‘bestemor.’ Of course, you want to read a book about Norwegian immigrants.”
But, that’s not why I requested a review copy. No, I was eager to read about the deaf alcoholic and his use of sign language long before it was “cool.” (Most of my kids have taken ASL at our community college).
Can I just say I’m glad I did?
Links may be affiliates that provide me with a small commission–costs you nothing extra, though. Also, I requested a review copy of this book from Celebrate Lit.
I’ve never read anything by Joanne Bischof, but I’ll be reading a lot more from now on!
Reviewing this book is crazy hard because it’s difficult to put into words the kinds of emotions this book evokes.
With delicate, artistic strokes, Bischof paints a picture of Appalachia that makes me ache for those hills and mountains I love so much. I can feel the crunch of leaves under my feet, smell the sweet, fresh scent of apple in the air, breathe the dew-dampened morning air… And all without a single extraneous word.
The story begins, and the brush strokes change. I feel Thor’s pain and self-loathing for his weaknesses, see the love he has to offer, understand his reticence. And the strokes deepen, strengthen, and slash across the canvas to create harsh lines.
Then comes Haaken with his boldness. Vivid colors add visual interest, but a broken little boy hovers beneath the surface. You see him hiding there as fine, pale lines beneath the vibrant larger strokes.
Beneath it all, Dorothea and Jorgan link hands to form a strong frame that holds it all together.
My heart aches with the beauty of it.
And amid all that richness, is a tale woven with an unusual premise for the time.
No one has ever accused me of being politically correct, environmentally conscious, or a champion for diversity in anything. It isn’t that I am pro or anti-any of these things in theory. I just tend not to latch on to anything that might further divide people. And sometimes our solutions do just that.
But definitely, the deaf hero aspect of this book is one of its strengths. You can tell that Ms. Bischof is either a part of deaf culture in some way, or she has done some phenomenal homework. The history behind sign language and deaf culture shown in this book is, from what I know of it, spot on.
And Bischof did something particularly well with it.
I didn’t catch her “preaching” too much. Yes, you can see her personal bias in what she showed and how she did it. However, I didn’t feel like I was getting a sermon on the evils of Alexander Graham Bell. One often does. Trust me.
But even all that isn’t why I so strongly recommend Sons of Blackbird Mountain. It goes deeper.
3 Reasons I Have Nothing but High Praise for This Book
There was the alcohol abuse.
As one who grew up with more drunkenness displayed than most Christians see in a lifetime, I loved that she showed it… and with compassion. Too often we either ignore it or demonize those trapped by it. Bischof showed the horrors while demonstrating love for those who sought freedom from it. I’ve never seen it done so well.
Or how about the racial issues.
This book takes place in 1890 in Virginia. This is a quarter of a century after the War Between the States. Some people are still embittered and angry. But what Bischof did that is so phenomenal is that she didn’t overemphasize it so that it took over the story. She showed that there were those who weren’t bitter, too. She showed the ugliness of bitterness and hatred without spreading it to all but one or two characters. So often, that’s what we see in fiction set in Southern regions.
Look, I don’t want to pretend there weren’t ridiculous attitudes—ungodly ones at that. There are today. And there will be in another 100 years. Another 500 years. Some group of people will always look down on another one. Always. It’s called sin.
But because this is a problem, sometimes it becomes emphasized in the wrong books. And it loses its punch. What Bischof did was acknowledge it, show it for the hideousness that it is, and leave it there. She let it do its job without ramming it down our throats.
Because that wasn’t the primary story she had to tell. It might be in another book. And then, it should be emphasized. I just loved that beautiful balance of “Here. This is ugliness. It happened. And look what it did to so many people.” And “Here. This is ugliness. It happened. And look what it did to so many people.” Drunkenness and hate. Two ugly diseases. And she showed them for what they are without apology. Bravo.
If those weren’t enough, then how about just plain old sin?
Yep, I’m cheering the sin, folks! You see, I can’t handle some things in my reading. Gore. Nope. Sex. Nope. Kissing… not really. But one thing will make me shut a book faster than any of it.
Somehow, Joanne Bischof wrote an attempted rape scene with discretion while still showing the horrors of it. She wrote it in a way I could actually read, and because of where it came in the book when I saw it coming, I didn’t shut it. I took a chance. Kept reading.
I’m so glad I did. Because not only did she write it well (and it was “only” attempted), but she wrote it with achingly beautiful compassion. If I was a crier, I would have bawled right there.
In fact, not once in this whole book did Ms. Bischof ever wink at sin.
But neither did she ever throw it out there with a self-righteous condemnation.
Sons of Blackbird Mountain is a brilliant combination of writing skill, storytelling ability, and Christian compassion.
I can’t wait for the next.
Sometimes Kindle books cost as much as some paperbacks. This is one of those. And this is one of the rare ones I think is worth it if you can’t wait to start reading, or you don’t want a paper copy. I won’t be getting rid of mine… ever.
Oh, and there’s more to the “Havig” story. Stay tuned for that in next week’s BLOG POST.
Title: Sons of Blackbird Mountain
Author: Joanne Bischof
Genre: Historical Romance
After the tragic death of her husband, Aven Norgaard is beckoned to give up her life in Norway to become a housekeeper in the rugged hills of Nineteenth-Century Appalachia. Upon arrival, she finds herself in the home of her late husband’s cousins—three brothers who make a living by brewing hard cider on their three-hundred-acre farm. Yet even as a stranger in a foreign land, Aven has hope to build a new life in this tight-knit family.
But her unassuming beauty disrupts the bond between the brothers.
The youngest two both desire her hand, and Aven is caught in the middle, unsure where—and whether—to offer her affection. While Haakon is bold and passionate, it is Thor who casts the greatest spell upon her. Though Deaf, mute, and dependent on hard drink to cope with his silent pain, Thor possesses a sobering strength.
As autumn ushers in the apple harvest, the rift between Thor and Haakon deepens and Aven faces a choice that risks hearts. Will two brothers’ longing for her quiet spirit tear apart a family? Can she find a tender belonging in this remote, rugged, and unfamiliar world?
A haunting tale of struggle and redemption, Sons of Blackbird Mountain is a portrait of grace in a world where the broken may find new life through the healing mercy of love.