It’s Throwback Thursday! Today I’m resharing my review of Where We Belong by Lynn Austin, one of my favourite novels from one of my favourite Christian historical fiction authors.
The Adventure of a Lifetime for Two Indomitable Socialite Sisters
In the city of Chicago in 1892, the rules for Victorian women are strict, their roles limited. But sisters Rebecca and Flora Hawes are not typical Victorian ladies. Their love of adventure and their desire to use their God-given talents has brought them to the Sinai Desert–and into a sandstorm.
Accompanied by Soren Petersen, their somber young butler, and Kate Rafferty, a street urchin who is learning to be their ladies’ maid, the two women are on a quest to find an important biblical manuscript. As the journey becomes more dangerous and uncertain, the four travelers sift through memories of their past, recalling the events that shaped them and the circumstances that brought them to this time and place.
Where We Belong starts in 1890, in the Sinai Desert, with forty-five year-old Rebecca Hawes traveling to St Catherine’s Monastery to search for ancient copies of the Bible. It’s a start that hooked me immediately, both because of the historical setting, and because of the age of the heroine—it’s refreshing to read a novel where the heroine is out of her twenties.
I was also intrigued because I could relate to Rebecca’s thoughts about the desolate nature of the Sinai between Cairo and St Catherines. Her journey took seven days by camel. In comparison, mine took seven hours by minibus, but that was quite long enough to feel for the stubborn Israelites, condemned to spend forty years in the heat and dust.
But then Where We Belong left the Sinai in 1890, and travelled back to 1860 Chicago—and I wasn’t impressed. It was still Rebecca’s story, but now Rebecca was a pampered teenager in the days before the Civil War (which I knew was coming, even though she didn’t). Fortunately, it soon became apparent that Rebecca was no ordinary Victorian-era teenager, and nor was her sister, Flora.
The novel followed Rebecca and Flora from their teenage years in Chicago through to showing why they are travelling to the Sinai in 1890 with only a couple of young servants for protection. The most fascinating thing is that Rebecca and Flora are based on real-life adventurers, Agnes and Margaret Smith, born in Scotland in 1843.
This explains one of the strengths of the novel—the feeling of historical authenticity that can only be gained by extensive research (and then leaving out most of the detail of that research). The other strength was related, and that was the Christian element. Rebecca and Flora (like the real-life Agnes and Margaret) were women of deep faith. They were intelligent women who had the strength of character to choose to follow God, not society, and who had endless compassion for the poor.
Lynn Austin has yet to write a novel I haven’t enjoyed, but I do think this is her best yet. Recommended for Christian historical fiction fans, especially those who enjoy authors such as Elizabeth Camden and Jody Hedlund.
I’m a history fan, and I loved it from the first line to the last. (I don’t think I stopped in between). Even better, a recent article from the Smithsonian shows new manuscripts are still being discovered at St Catherine’s:
Isn’t that cool?
Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.
About Lynn Austin
For many years, Lynn Austin nurtured a desire to write but frequent travels and the demands of her growing family postponed her career. When her husband’s work took Lynn to Bogota, Colombia, for two years, she used the B.A. she’d earned at Southern Connecticut State University to become a teacher. After returning to the U.S., the Austins moved to Anderson, Indiana, Thunder Bay, Ontario, and later to Winnipeg, Manitoba.
It was during the long Canadian winters at home with her children that Lynn made progress on her dream to write, carving out a few hours of writing time each day while her children napped. Lynn credits her early experience of learning to write amid the chaos of family life for her ability to be a productive writer while making sure her family remains her top priority.
Along with reading, two of Lynn’s lifelong passions are history and archaeology. She and her son traveled to Israel during the summer of 1989 to take part in an archaeological dig at the ancient city of Timnah. Lynn resigned from teaching to write full-time in 1992. Since then she has published 24 novels.