Quest of Hope
It is the year 1174 in the village of Weyer, Germany. On the day the peasant, Heinrich, is christened, the joy of celebration changes to terror as a column of knights approaches the village. Without thought of standing in their own defense, the villagers flee to the sanctuary of the church. Heinrich grows to manhood accepting the boundaries which define his life, including the village border he must not cross, and the uncle’s tyranny he must not defy. Yet of all the restrictions which confine Heinrich’s world, the cruelest is the one he takes upon himself: Bound by a terrible oath given when he was but a child, Heinrich dares not lift his eyes to the heavens. Conscripted as a baker for the army that marches against the peasants of Stedinger, Heinrich is astonished to see men of his own station ready to fight for their freedom. When his cousin is killed by a knight, for sport, fury rises within him at last, and Heinrich turns from the safety of the ways he has always known to the more precarious life of a free man.
In the first part of this book, the unfolding days and years of Heinrich’s life are as sumptuous as a box of handmade chocolates. While neither idealizing the peasantry nor demonizing the nobility, the author lays a delectable feast of images, characters and story. Unfortunately, once Heinrich breaks free from his cultural imprisonment, he hurtles toward the climactic moment of his life through a series of adventures written in such a different style that I wondered if this was, in truth, a second novel pasted to the end of the first. Despite this weakness, Quest of Hope is a wonderfully evocative story of a peasant’s life in the Middle Ages.