Twentieth century political storms in Crimea loom on the horizon. The class difference between Russian serfs and prosperous German people brought into Russia by Catherine the Great. The ‘serfs’ or everyday Russian people had severe limitations; they were close to slaves. There was no hope for them to prosper. Those limitations weren’t placed on the Germans many of whom were industrious members of the Mennonite groups.
The differences in opportunity led to deep class chasms. In good times, these differences weren’t painful. In bad times, when money and food were scarce for the Russians, the clouds began to grow into thunderheads.
The world is at war and revolution threatens. Revolution becomes ugly and personal in the corners of need and prosperity. Fear is justified when crude and violence becomes a danger. Against this backdrop of fear and danger, three young people search for hope and love.
South Russia, 1914.
Katarina Hildebrandt’s tranquil life on her family’s Crimean estate is about to change. A quiet leader in her family and community, Katarina holds fast to her faith. A truly generous and humble soul, she tries to relieve hunger and cold in the community. But, her roots — her home at the family holdings, Succoth, will not hide the tender, cultured lifestyle that the community is coming to resent more and more.
There’s no hysteria in this young woman. She isn’t ignorant of the coming storm. Katarina will be a leader throughout. Her heart belongs to the tutor hired for the two youngest children in her family.
Tutor Johann Sudermann has found true faith, but it will turn his life upside-down. Johann is attracted to the beautiful, vain, but amazingly efficient second sister in the Hildebrandt household, Maria. For a time. Then, he begins to see the light.
But, the military draft calls him as a non-combatant. First he will be working in the forests. Then, he will become a medic on the fields of war. His honor, integrity and strength are tested. If he can only get home — first to his parents to mend bridges, then to Succoth and Katarina.
And Paul Gregorovich Tekanin, working for the revolution in St. Petersburg, finds it will demand his soul as well as his wit and strength. The Russian, Paul and the German, Johann were unusual friends before the storm. As a revolutionary, Paul manages to avoid the front lines of battle. He operates undercover, seeking to weaken the Czar and bring freedom to the people. The battlefields of the terrorist are not all rosy conquest. Where will this young man who claims to be of no faith find a port in the storm?
How will these three and the ones they love find faith to weather the coming storm?
Always Upheaval in the World
As we read with 20/20 hindsight, the coming Bolshevik revolution in Russia with the bloody overthrow of the Czar is going to be a disappointment. But, our characters don’t have our point of view. German people were immigrating out of Russia, often to America, a few decades before the social wounds were ripped open. World War I brought greater suffering to the common people of Russia and expanded the social infection.
The Hildebrandt family were successful in the Crimea and were generous to servants and those in the community. They acknowledged the pride of the impoverished and found ingenious ways to help. Some members of their family did leave Russia before the war.
People who left were almost ‘kicked out’ with as little as could possibly be allowed. The things they left were for those who could enjoy their wealth. Some of these folks used their native innovation to smuggle their fortunes out of the country. One trick utilized false bottoms in the few trunks permitted to leave.
When Catherine The Great brought people from her native Germany to Russia, she had a plan for the German tendencies toward hard work and innovation. As a member of the European royalty and upper class, she didn’t relate well to the status of the serfs. Some thought that the Russians were incapable of governing themselves. Only the ‘more brilliant’ German minds could bring prosperity to Russia.
What I Liked about Calm Before the Storm
Author, Janice L Dick writes faith based novels, plain and clear. She was drawn to the story of the German Mennonites in Russia because of family roots. This first book in a series holds promise of more insight into the personalities. We see maturity coming to youthful characters. The mature family members are supportive of their children or grandchildren. The statements of faith are clear, but without judgment. Thus, we see Paul as a valuable person despite his denial of faith. Maria is not as enthusiastic about church life as others in her family. Johann also takes awhile to ‘get it.’
There is romance in Calm Before the Storm, but the relationships are wholesome and positive. There is no graphic violence for the sake of violence. The language can only be described as ‘CLEAN.’
While the Hildebrandt family and their friends would have met the qualification for humility and generosity, they were comfortable in their profession and prosperity. Some people were serfs and servants, but not the Hildebrandt people. This historical descriptions are a joy for me. With this novel and other reading about this part of the world, I am intrigued and impressed with the fertility of the land. As a child growing up during the Cold War, my perception of these regions were unproductive, war-torn Hell — not a land that sang to me. Not the amazing agricultural and industrial productivity that history reports.
I’m looking forward to future novels in the series and am honored to have been included in early reading and a launch team.