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Book Review: The Water is Wide by Marianne Monson

26 Nov, 2010 by in marianne monson, mima journals, water is wide 3 comments

The Mima Journals
The Water is Wide
by Marianne Monson
Published Oct. 5, 2010
by Deseret Book
231 pages
4.5 stars

When Mima’s mother meets a pair of LDS missionaries in the small English town of Wood Box in 1844, Mima prays that the townspeople wont’ treat them any differently. But when her mother chooses to be baptized, Mima’s worst fears are recognized. Even her best friend refused to stand by her. So when her mother decides to leave for America, Mima is faced with some hard decisions. Should she stay in London with her brother, or face the journey to America with her mother and her strange new religion? Book one of three, The Water is Wide, begins the beautifully written adventure of a teenage girl who experiences the life of a pioneer as an outsider.

The Mima Journals Book One is an incredible historical fiction piece based on the author’s great great great Grandmother, Jemima (Mima). It begins in Wooden Box, Leicestershire England in January 1845 as Mima’s mother has decided to accept the Mormon faith and be baptized. Mima and her mother are at odds with each other because Mima cannot comprehend how their Anglican roots could so easily be left behind. Soon after her mother’s conversion the family is forced to leave their home, Providence House. Both board the Parthenon a ship headed for Nauvoo, leaving behind all they have ever known to join the Mormon settlement in the United States.

Aboard the ship Mima meets and befriends a young mother who herself is not a Mormon, traveling with her husband and they strike up a deep relationship. Questions of belief and loyalty are out in the open and Mima grapples with the weight of her mother’s decision to join the Saints. She also meets a handsome fiddler named Will Fardon. Mima must find her voice while sailing the treacherous seas and learn to sing again though she feels an outsider. The scenes with Will are my favorite tidbits of the story as he and Mima make harmony amidst unrest.

Part Two of The Water Is Wide is set in Nauvoo, Illinois in May 1845. Tension in the area is high when Mima and her mother arrive in “Zion.” Camps and towns are burned, mobs descend and homes are lost. Ultimately, the duo is uprooted and leave behind business, a promising singing career and the few friends they have made to travel West as pioneers. There are a few more stops along the way in parts 2 and 3, plus a certain someone who joins in their travels.

Marianne Monson’s writing is immersing and beautiful. Years of research and stories give life to the main character Mima and the trials she and her mother must endure. I really like that this novel was written from the daughter’s point of view as she is not a member of the new faith. We see the questions and persecutions converts and family members faced in England and on the Frontier. Mima’s singing and passion for music is a strong undercurrent, and her beginnings of belief are inspiring.

“Music is like water,” I said, drawing close to him.

How so?”

“The melody is like the surface of the water, easily seen. The notes and rhythm are like the hidden currents, the sandbars, and the murky depths below. But the whole thing pulls you forward in one direction leading you on a journey.” p. 210

Poetic passages with bits of actual songs made the story so much more alive for me. I will treasure it as an example of how family history meets fiction to create an ancestor’s masterpiece. Book One will be enjoyed by both members of the Mormon church and those not of the Mormon faith. Anyone intrigued by vocal music, or family history will be swept away in The Water is Wide. It’s foundation is solid and beautifully laid out. I am anxiously awaiting book two and thank Deseret Book for forwarding this one one to me. You’ll want to be introduced to Marianne Monson’s Mima and her fiddler friend Will.

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