Fields of Grace
Kim Vogel Sawyer’s emotionally rich Fields of Grace begins with Reinhardt and Lillian Vogt preparing to travel to America. Lillian and her three sons are reluctant to leave, but Reinhardt is adamant that only America can offer them the freedom they no longer have in Russia. He fears for the future of his sons, especially Henrik who will be eighteen soon and subject to military conscription.
The Vogts are one of the first families to leave, and Reinhardt has convinced his adopted brother Eli to accompany them. A prosperous farmer, Eli was orphaned as a child and still has no family of his own. A man of deep faith, he is hoping for a new future for himself as well. Henrik Vogt, angry at being forced to leave the young woman he loves, evolves to become the story’s critical character. When both her husband and one of her sons die before the ship docks inNew York, Lillian’s hopeful optimism is shattered. Realizing she can not return to Russia, she reluctantly accepts Eli’s proposal of marriage.
While Eli and Lillian’s love and faith are at the heart of the story, the roles her sons play add a rich depth of emotion. The characters are warm, caring and likeable even at their worst. We admire Eli and his steadfast ways, daily demonstrating his love for his new family and retaining his faith in God. Although Lillian readily accepts the hardships of making a home on an unsettled prairie, she struggles with guilt and sorrow as she begins to love her new husband.
Ms. Sawyer’s novel was deftly enhanced by research and gives us a compelling picture of Mennonite family life on the 19th-century prairie. The story is also meant to be inspirational, and at that it succeeds very well.