Christmas Bells: A Novel. Jennifer Chiaverini. Penguin Group (USA). October 27, 2015. 336 pp. ISBN#: 9780525955245.
“I heard the bells on Christmas Day/ Their old familiar carols play/ And wild and sweet/ The words repeat/Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” This is the famous chorus of the poem/song written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The story begins in the pre-Civil War year of 1860 when we are introduced to the Longfellow family, an almost ideal family who deeply cared for each other and thoroughly enjoyed their Boston, Massachusetts environment. Harsh, then, is the extinguishing of the joyful flame when Henry’s wife, Fannie, dies in an accidental fire. Longfellow is extremely overcome at the loss of his beloved wife and the thrill of Revolutionary times is also being squelched by the decisions made by Southern states to secede from the Union. The issue of slavery and its economic realities has become the divisive factor calling for the split of a barely one hundred year old united nation. Longfellow’s family will be called to also sacrifice much during the duration of the war, perfectly summarized in Longfellow’s entire poem, “Christmas Bells.”
Travel in time another hundred years and we are watching how a devoted and talented music teacher, Sophia, is devastated with the news that her job has been eliminated because of financial budget cuts. She’s also the conductor and director of a local church choir that is preparing to perform Longfellow’s poem as part of the annual Christmas celebration. Her accompanist, Lucas, loves her but is afraid to honestly broach the subject with her.
At the same time another family suffers because they have not heard from their husband and father who is serving in the National Guard in Afghanistan. He used to call regularly but all of a sudden those calls stop. Some other conflicts arise from here, later to be challenged by a Catholic nun with remarkable intuitive powers – or are they divine?
There is so much more than can be described herein that makes this story real with all of the pain and grace-filled happiness that normal life challenges bring, even in the beloved season known as Christmas! Jennifer Chiaverini crafts stories that convey an easy style intertwined with real, harsh challenges that don’t crush the reader with the elicited tension riddling so many scenes. This reader is always delighted to read another Chiaverini novel and highly recommends this excellent work of historical fiction!!!! Perfect for any season!!!